The United Nations food aid agency is scaling up its efforts to reach hundreds of thousands of Syrians affected by an armed struggle for freedom and persistent drought in the Middle Eastern country.
The World Food Programme distributes food aid to Syria. [WFP]
Officials with the World Food Programme plan to target 250,000 hungry people per month inside the country until December 2012, based on a request by Syrian Arab Red Crescent to increase emergency food distribution. This would more than double the number of beneficiaries from the 100,000 Syrians now served each month, and the WFP plans to reach 500,000 people in the next few weeks.
"As the conflict continues, Syrians in areas affected by the violence are struggling to feed their families and WFP is deeply concerned about the potential for food insecurity," Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, said today in a statement.
"The expansion of our assistance came at the request of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and we are ready to further scale up our humanitarian assistance when access permits," she said.
The violence in Syria began in March 2011 as a protest movement against the government of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad similar to others in countries across the Middle East and North Africa. The conflict has to date claimed more than 9,000 lives, mostly civilians, and displaced tens of thousands of other Syrians.
Last month, a government-led assessment mission jointly carried out by seven UN agencies and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, estimated that as many as one million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
World Food Programme officials say that even before violence broke out in Syria, a food security survey found that 1.4 million people - especially those from areas hit hard by a drought in previous years - were struggling to feed themselves and that they are concentrated in areas currently affected by unrest.
The drought has continued for years, since 2006 in many areas. Severe drought affecting an area with 1.3 million inhabitants has meant that farmers have not been able to harvest for four consecutive years, while many herders have lost over 80 percent of their livelihood for lack of pasture and fodder, according to an appeal for emergency funds covering the period August 2009 through December 2010 made by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.