David Kenner: How food became Syria’s next battlefield
03/05/2014 12:00 AM
03/04/2014 6:45 PM
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. One in particular – showing residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, located outside Damascus – may be worth even more than that.
The photograph and corresponding video were taken by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has had intermittent access to the camp in the past two months. According to UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness, it shows Yarmouk residents gathering at the northern part of the camp, waiting for UNRWA workers to distribute food parcels.
“The distribution takes place in a ‘no-man’s-land’ defined by opposition sniper positions,” Gunness said. “Gaunt, ragged figures of all ages fill the streets of the devastated camp for as far as the eye can see.”
As shown by the numbers of people who took to the street, Yarmouk residents desperately need the aid UNRWA distributes. The camp has been besieged by Syrian regime forces since last summer, which has resulted in the starvation of dozens of residents – and hard-to-watch videos showing the severe malnutrition of many more.
The photograph of the Palestinian camp also shows that the aid reaching Yarmouk is not nearly enough. UNRWA says that over the course of the past month it has distributed to Yarmouk just more than 7,000 food parcels, each of which feeds five to eight people for 10 days. But with 18,000 Palestinians and an unknown number of Syrians in the camp, simple math – and the clear evidence of starvation emerging from Yarmouk – shows that not enough food is getting into the camp to feed all its residents.
On Feb. 23, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution that for the first time calls on both the Syrian regime and the country’s rebels to allow aid organizations access to suffering civilians across the country. UNRWA is hoping that this will allow them greater access to areas in need. But so far, plenty of hurdles remain.
Last week Gunness announced that aid workers were once again stopped from distributing assistance in Yarmouk. The halt came just one day after UNRWA released a statement saying Commissioner General Filippo Grandi was “encouraged by assurances given by the (Syrian) authorities that access will be maintained and expanded” after his recent three-day visit to Damascus.
“Following clear advice from concerned parties that distribution would not be possible, no UNRWA team was present,” Gunness said, in explaining the reason for the halt in aid delivery. “We remain concerned about the situation facing thousands of civilians in the camp…. They have suffered enough.”