The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) plans to reach 2.5 million people in Syria with food aid - a million more than it is currently assisting - now that the Government has expanded the list of local partners it can work with, the agency's chief said Wednesday.
WFP was given a list of 110 additional non-governmental organizations (NGOs) last week by the Syrian Government. The agency has assessed the operational capacity of these organizations and identified 44 that will enable it to scale up its operations to reach another one million people.
"We are pleased that the Government has provided us with the opportunity to expand our partners," WFP's Executive Director Ertharin Cousin told a news conference in Geneva. "We are now working expeditiously to expand our operations to reach the additional one million individuals."
Cousin just completed a three-day trip to Turkey during which she met with Turkish officials in Ankara and Istanbul, and visited the Kilis refugee camp, where 22,500 Syrians who fled the conflict in their country are currently living.
More than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and hundreds of thousands more have been displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in early 2011.
Recent months have witnessed an escalation in the conflict, which is now in its 23rd month.
WFP´s Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, travelled to Turkey to see first-hand the humanitarian situation affecting Syrians who have fled there to escape the conflict taking place in their home country.
The UN estimates that the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria quadrupled between March 2012 and December 2012, from one million to four million.
UN humanitarian aid planning estimates that up to a million Syrian refugees will need help during the first half of 2013, with most of these located in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.
Inside Syria, WFP is reaching 1.5 million people with food assistance, working with its primary partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
"What we did not have in the past was permission from the Government to formally develop relationships with additional NGO partners," noted Cousin. "We have now been given that additional authority from the Government.
"We are still going to be limited by the ongoing conflict," she added. "I'm not going to suggest that merely because we will now have more partners that that will open up space that didn't exist before because of conflict."
While the Government has given WFP its consent to access all areas of the country, the agency has been constrained by increasing attacks on its trucks in the last two months.
"We have said we need the humanitarian space from both sides, from both the Government side and the opposition side. And we will continue to talk to all parties to ensure that we have the access that is required to meet the food assistance needs of all those inside Syria who are impacted," Cousin stated.
"The reality is that we are in a conflict zone," she continued. "There will be challenges to our ability to deliver. Our goal is to overcome those challenges at every opportunity to ensure that we provide the food that is necessary."