April 1, 2014
A convoy representing donations from the United Nations, World Food Program and Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered 16 truckloads of food and medical aid to the town of Douma in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta Saturday. It was only the second time in almost two years that international organizations have been allowed to pass through a stifling government blockade and bring humanitarian supplies into Eastern Ghouta. The first occasion was earlier last month, when a delegation of international aid workers entered Douma on March 20 to survey the humanitarian situation and deliver a limited quantity of assistance.
Saturday’s shipment came just a day after UN Humanitarian Coordinator Valerie Amos criticized pro-Assad forces for continuing to restrict humanitarian access inside Syria after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2139 last month demanding improved access. “Even if we have the agreement of the government in Damascus, we have examples of individuals on the ground that support the government…who will prevent us from crossing certain checkpoints or prevent us from delivering aid,” she said Friday.
Opposition activists both inside and outside echo Amos’s sentiment, maintaining that that there is a stark disparity between the amount of aid reaching regime- and rebel-held areas.
“This aid was given by the international community to help the Syrian people—not to help regime forces and shabiha that are killing Syrians,” says Baraa Abdulrahman, spokesman for the Douma Local Coordination Committee.
Abdulrahman tells Syria Direct’s Firas Abd that, after two years of encirclement, the blockade of Eastern Ghouta means that local aid organziations “are effectively incapable of providing any services to the area’s residents,” estimated at 800,000 people.
Q: Can you speak about the current humanitarian conditions in Eastern Ghouta?
Eastern Ghouta is suffering from a stifling siege, as are most liberated regions in Syria. According to the director of the Eastern Ghouta Relief Office, the area’s independent civil society organizations—such as the Relief Office and the Unified Revolutionary Medical Bureau—are effectively incapable of providing any services to the area’s residents due to the population density and tremendous need caused by the siege.
The director also mentioned that Eastern Ghouta’s population is roughly 800,000, comprising 140,000 families, and that the aid being delivered by the UN is not enough for even 1 percent of the population.
Humanitarian workers delivered aid to besieged areas in Eastern Ghouta Saturday, including the town of Douma. Photo courtesy of SARC.
Q: How frequently has the United Nations been able to deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta over the past two years?
From the beginning of 2012—meaning since the territories [of Eastern Ghouta] were liberated from regime control—no UN aid entered Eastern Ghouta until March 20, 2014.
Q: What happened on March 20?
A convoy comprised of the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the Syrian Red Crescent, visited Eastern Ghouta in order to evaluate the current situation in the area. The delegation brought in a few cars with a small amount of aid and said that it was as much as they could bring on this visit. The delegation also met with a number of activists in the city and visited the Red Crescent office. They left the city safely, under Free Syrian Army protection.
Q: What type of aid was brought in?
They brought in 600 food packages, 3,000 blankets and 1,000 carpets in addition to a small number of towels and 27 and a half packages of children’s milk, each with 24 cartons.
Q: How was aid distributed, and who supervised the distribution?
The 600 parcels that were brought in were divided into 2,962 food baskets that will be distributed by the Syrian Red Crescent through all areas of Eastern Ghouta, according to statements from the director of the Relief Office.
Q: What about the regime-controlled territories? Is aid distributed there?
Yes, aid is distributed periodically in pro-regime territories; every family with seven or more members gets four beds, four blankets, two carpets, a box of foodstuffs and a box of cleaning supplies. Sometimes they get coupons for about 40 liters of diesel fuel at regime prices.
As for pro-opposition areas under regime control, aid is also distributed but is limited to a food package and a box of cleaning supplies.
Q: Does the aid distributed in opposition-controlled areas differ from that distributed in regime-controlled areas?
Yes, the boxes distributed in regime-controlled areas are 100 kg and most of the boxes are being sold and distributed by shabiha. Opposition-controlled areas are blockaded and pro-Assad forces prevent anything from entering as people die of starvation, despite the fact that this aid was given by the international community to help the Syrian people—not to help regime forces and shabiha that are killing Syrians. I also want to emphasize reports from prisoners who have been released saying that the regime is using these aid packages in the prisons and other government institutions rather than distributing them to the people.
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