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UN sent food for record 1.5 mln people in Syria in Sept

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 23 Oct 2012 16:02 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Amount up from 850,000 Syrians reached by WFP in August

* Fuel for cooking and heating seen as issue this winter

* Syrian crisis having impact on food prices in region (adds details, quotes, byline)

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Oct 23 (Reuters) - The World Food Programme (WFP) has sent food to Syria for 1.5 million people in September, up from 850,000 in August, and is monitoring the distribution of its supplies, the United Nations agency said on Tuesday.

"It is a record amount," Daly Belgasmi, WFP regional director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, told Reuters in Geneva.

The WFP had no information on the Syrian government's food security stocks, but fuel for cooking and heating "may be an issue" this winter for many residents, especially the estimated 1.2 million who have been displaced, he said.

"We have full support that we can have access to Syrians without any distinction," Belgasmi, who held talks with senior Syrian officials in Damascus last week, told a news briefing.

"In the case of Syria, the market looks stable inside. You can go and see oil, vegetables, onions, tomatoes - for how long we don't have a real indication," he said.

But some areas remain cut off to aid workers due to fighting between Syrian government forces and armed militants locked in a 19-month conflict that has escalated into a civil war.

WFP food is distributed mainly by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other local partners. Belgasmi estimated that distribution of a maximum of one-third of it was monitored, adding "but we know that the food is going to the right direction".

"We do not provide any food to any (warring) party, we provide food to those who are in need," he said.

In all, up to three million people in Syria are likely to need food, crop and livestock aid, according to a joint assessment by the WFP, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the government.

The Syrian crisis is also driving up basic food prices across the region, Belgasmi said.

"Syrian farmers, they used to be really very strong suppliers of food in the region. They used to export over 2 million tonnes of vegetables and something like over 200,0000 animal products and millions of tonnes of cereals to the region. All that has stopped," he told a news briefing.

"So you have an increase in the cost of food commodities in the neighbouring countries," he said.

The WFP is also distributing food vouchers or supplies to 120,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to four neighbouring countries - Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Lebanon has become the third of Syria's neighbours after Turkey and Jordan to register more than 100,000 refugees from Syria's civil war, the U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday.

In all, more than 358,000 Syrians fleeing the conflict have registered in four neighbouring states, the UNHCR said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Anthony Barker)

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