Roundup: Syria needs more aid amid growing poverty

Roundup: Syria needs more aid amid growing poverty

DAMASCUS, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- More than 5.6 million people inside Syria need assistance, an official at the World Food Program (WFP) said, warning that more Syrians are inching closer to the poverty line as the civil conflict gripping the country continues.

The representative and director of the WFP in Syria, Matthew Holingorth, said in an interview issued on Thursday in the Tishrin newspaper that the number of poor exceeds the organization's capacity, which currently serves 5.5 million displaced people inside and outside Syria.

Acquiring food has become a serious challenge for many Syrians, who, after enduring intense fighting for nearly three years, are burdened by a sluggish economy and a rising unemployment rate that now stands at about 60 percent. Reports indicate food prices have seen a three-fold increase since the outbreak of clashes in the country.

Holingorth said that the WHO program had submitted 240,000 tons of foodstuffs to feed more than 6 million families, each comprised of around five people, adding that the program is spending about 30 million dollars each week in order to secure food aid to displaced families and the needy, both inside Syria and outside, and seeks in the next year to increase the number of families to 4 million inside Syria and 2 million in neighboring countries.

He added that the WFP provides food assistance every month. The last aid package, worth about 50 million dollars, was given in November when relief items were submitted to around 4.3 million displaced and poor people in all the Syrian governorates.

Holingorth said that there are millions of Syrians who are close to the poverty line, and some of them fall below it, indicating that most of them were not at that line before the crisis.

A study issued in April by the Syrian Center for the Policies Research said that the living conditions of more than six million Syrians deteriorated over the past two years because of the international sanctions and the harsh impact of the fighting in the country.

The study's results and Holingorth's comments were echoed by the head of the office of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Abdullah al-Dardari, who had estimated that 5 million Syrian citizens are now living below the poverty line.

Last month, the UN Security Council said aid efforts to those in need have slowed considerably because of an increase in violence and excessive red tape.

Holingorth said the WFP is currently covering about 90 percent of people who have been displaced from their homes and 10 percent of people who have lost their breadwinner and no longer have any source of income.

"Unfortunately, the number of needy people in Syria is increasing day after day because of the crisis. There are people, who were displaced by the events at the beginning of the crisis and being displaced once again... So the process is ongoing," he said.

He indicated that the program seeks to obtain financial support from around the world, noting that China had offered 2 million dollars two weeks ago, while Kuwait is the main donor among the Arab countries.

Holingorth said the program is currently limited to food aid only because "if we provided financial assistance to the needy, this will further increase the prices because of (an expected) increase in demand and spending. The crisis in Syria has negatively impacted the domestic market and led to inflation."