UN warns of acute humanitarian needs in Syria

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 01, 2012 08:23 hrs

Thousands of people in the Syrian city of Homs now face precarious living conditions and shortages of basic services, the United Nations refugee agency warned Firday, following an assessment mission there.

A team from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted a two-day mission to Homs, where 250,000 people have been displaced in and around the city, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).

"[The team] reported thousands of displaced people living in unheated communal shelters. Half of the city's hospitals are not functional and there are severe shortages of basic supplies ranging from medicine to blankets, winter clothes and children's shoes," a UNHCR spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told reporters in Geneva.

During their mission, the team surveyed the feasibility of rehabilitating shelters and briefed local officials on UNHCR's current operations in the area, including the provision of non-food aid supplies. They also visited the largest shelter in the city, which houses hundreds of families.

"Local solidarity networks have been formed and are providing very organized help to local residents, but the needs are acute," Fleming said. "Many children have not been to school for the last 18 months. Some city hospitals have been converted into communal shelters and 60 per cent of Homs doctors have left, along with other medical personnel. There are serious shortages of medicine and medical equipment."

With the onset of winter, "UNHCR plastic sheeting is being used to cover open doorways and missing windows in collective centres, as well as to partition rooms," Fleming added, noting that none of the buildings are heated, and there is a shortage of blankets, winter clothes and shoes for children.

During the mission, UNHCR trucks delivered urgent winter assistance, including 6,000 quilts, 12,000 sleeping mats, 13,000 winter blankets, 1,000 mattresses and 6,000 boxes of sanitary napkins. More aid supplies are scheduled for delivery in the coming days to complete relief shipment for some 15,000 people.

The agency has more than 350 staff in five locations across Syria and has been present in Homs since mid-November, where it has been providing assistance through SARC since June.

To date, UNHCR has distributed aid packages to 5,000 displaced families in Fleming added that UNHCR intends to scale up its winter response in the city with more deliveries, and is also identifying new humanitarian partners to expand its local distribution network. In addition, agreements have been finalized with partners for the rehabilitation of some 40 communal shelters across the country.

The conflict in Syria, which began as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad some 21 months ago, has led to the deaths of at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, forced over 460,000 people to neighbouring countries, and left more than 2.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.

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