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Hungry Aleppo residents rely on charity for food

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Umm Ahmed and Umm Ibrahim watch over simmering casseroles containing dozens of kilos of rice and noodle soup, as they help prepare meals for a growing number of poverty-stricken residents of Aleppo, once Syria's commercial hub.

The two young women work for the Multaqa Harair Suriya, or association of free Syrian women, which is tasked with preparing and distributing meals in several districts of the country's largest city in the north.

They cook from 8:00 am until noon each day in the rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr district. Today they are making some 60 kilograms (130 pounds) of rice and just as much soup.

"It's a popular meal and it's nutritious," said Mohammad Ali al-Hussein, a defector who left the army to help in the charity.

Mother of five Umm Ahmed, 30, says working at the charity gives her an opportunity to help others and to feed her family.

"We have no work or resources of our own. Working here allows us to help those in need and at the same time to provide for our own families," said the woman, wearing a pink dress.

"My husband is out of work, so I decided to work here in order to feed my four children," said Umm Ibrahim.

At noon, four volunteers packed plastic containers with food and rice into a pick-up truck. The vehicle drove the meals to a small store, where distribution takes place daily.

While for many months several Aleppo districts have been deprived of electricity and, on some days, water, whole families have been forced by the conflict to rely on charity for food.

"My husband is unemployed, and there's eight of us at home. I come here every day for food," said Sanaa, holding a bucket of rice.

"Of course it's not enough, but it's all we've got," she added, her face hidden behind a black veil.

Around her, many other women queued up for food, joined by some men and several children. They all hold a document that shows the beneficiaries were registered with the association and how many people there are in each family.

"Ever since the fighting broke out (nine months ago), I haven't had a job and everything has become much more expensive," said Abu Seif, 37, a father of four.

"We don't have anything. We haven't had electricity in six months. Only God can provide for us," he told AFP.

Abdel Karim, father of five, comes to the distribution point in his wheelchair.

"Sometimes people help us a little. One person gives us a little handout, another gives us something else. We manage," he said.

Every day, the charity feeds dozens of families of an average seven members.

"Each meal costs us some 15,000 to 20,000 Syrian pounds ($150 to $200)," said Abdallah Ahmed al-Karmu, a lawyer who now heads this group.

"We also distribute some 600 bags of bread a day, which cost some 30,000 Syrian pounds ($300)," he told AFP.

Karmu says the funding comes from "people in Saudi Arabia and Syrian expatriate groups in Belgium and the United States".

An hour later, volunteers start their new task: baby formula distribution.

On the other side of the road, store shelves overflow with fruit and honey-filled cakes. Although there is no shortage of food, there are very few people with the money to buy it.

The UN World Food Programme says "humanitarian needs are growing in Syria, with serious bread and fuel shortages across the country".

"In some areas, the prices of most essential items have risen by 200 percent, and the Syrian pound has been devalued by around 80 percent," the WFP added.

According to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, "2.5 million Syrians inside the country need food assistance".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130328/hungry-aleppo-residents-rely-charity-food