By Katie Nguyen
LONDON (AlertNet) - The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) plans to increase the number of people it can provide with food aid in Syria to 2.5 million by April, a WFP official said, warning that their needs are growing because of high food prices and fuel shortages.
"The food situation countrywide is getting worse," said Muhannad Hadi, WFP Regional Emergency Coordinator for Syria and neighbouring countries.
"The needs of the people are increasing, not just food-related but other humanitarian needs," he told AlertNet in a phone interview from Amman, Jordan.
The WFP has not been able to establish the total number of Syrians needing food aid because it has been unable to gain access to all parts of the country, Hadi said. But it provided food assistance to 1.75 million people in Syria last month and is aiming to help two million this month, he said.
Until February, the WFP had been delivering food with just one distribution partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. It has since selected 28 local groups drawn from a government-approved list of 110 NGOs to help with distribution across Syria, Hadi said.
Asked if he was confident aid was being evenly distributed between government- and rebel-held areas, Hadi said almost half the WFP food aid went to Syrians in opposition areas.
"We work in both government and non-government controlled areas. We cross lines within Syria," Hadi said.
"I think 45 percent of our assistance goes to people in areas held by the opposition, but mind you, 45 percent is an estimate and those areas change...one area will this month be controlled by the government, next month it could be controlled by the opposition and vice versa."
The WFP has selected its additional local partners based on their perceived capacity and neutrality, he said. "We've done the due diligence to the extent possible on those NGOs and we've made sure … some of them are operating in government and others operating in non-government controlled areas," he said.
The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's civil war, a conflict which began as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad two years ago. Nearly 1 million Syrians are refugees, escaping to neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon as the conflict worsened.
Hadi said the outlook for those inside the country was tough. Food prices have soared, in some areas by more than 50 percent. Agricultural output, which was hit by drought before the conflict began, is expected to be smaller this year than last, and there is a shortage of diesel and other fuel.
"How will bakeries operate if they don't have flour, and if they have flour they don't even have the diesel to bake it? We're not even talking about the yeast ... " Hadi said.
"On top of all of this, you need to have security for people to operate and for markets to function."
Another major challenge is funding. The WFP needs $174 million to finance its Syria programmes until the end of June, Hadi said.