U.N. able to deliver another 850 food parcels in Yarmouk

Mark SeibelMcClatchy Washington Bureau

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was able to distribute another 850 food parcels to the besieged Damascus neighborhood of Yarmouk on Saturday, bringing to 2,856 the number of parcels distributed in the last three days. Each of those parcels provides 10 days worth of meals to as many as eight people, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness says.

In his email today, he spells out what is in each parcel: 5 kilograms of rice, 5 kilos of sugar, 5 kilos of lentils, 5 liters of oil, 3 kilos of powdered milk, 1 kilo of halva, 1.5 kilos of pasta and 5 200-gram tins of luncheon meat. UNRWA also is delivering multi-vitamins for infants, food supplements and rehydration kits, Gunness reported, hoping to offset months in which the food supply was limited to stale "vegetables, herbs, powdered tomato paste, animal feed and cooking spices dissolved in water." He added, that "infants are suffering from diseases linked to severe malnutrition, including anemia, rickets, and kwashiorkor."

The last three days of deliveries have been the first significant food aid to arrive at the camp since June, and the situation had become dire, as McClatchy's Jonathan S. Landay noted in this horrific story two weeks ago.

How long these deliveries will continue is anyone's guess right now. UNRWA thought the aid program would begin on Jan. 18, when it hoped to deliver 200 food parcels. It was able to deliver only 138, however; the 10 days those packets would be expected to last had passed by the time Syrian authorities took whatever steps cleared the way for deliveries to begin again on Thursday, when 1,026 parcels were handed out. On Friday, UNRWA delivered another 980.

Gunness also sent out photos of the delivery. They depict long lines of people waiting for the food parcels. Video shows mobs of people lining up for the boxes. Two weeks ago, Gunness said one of the main issues for Syrian authorities was keeping the food distribution limited to civilians. Gunness' most recent emails don't say if that's still an issue. There's no sign of armed people in two videos posted. The crowds seem surprisingly patient and calm for people who've survived such harrowing circumstances.

Here's the text of Gunness's Saturday report:

"After being besieged and without regular food supplies since last June, the civilians of Yarmouk, many of whom have endured extreme hunger and malnutrition, have received nearly three thousand food parcels, most of it delivered by UNRWA workers in the last three days.

"The exact figure of food parcels delivered since UNRWA gained access to the camp on 18 January is 2,994. Each food parcel is extremely basic but in the present circumstances its contents can be considered "life-saving". The parcels contain 5 kg of rice, 5 kg of sugar, 5 kg or lentils, 5 liters of oil, 3 kg of powdered milk, 1 kg of halva, 1.5 kg of pasta and 5 (200 gram) tins of luncheon meet. Each food parcel is supposed to feed a family of between five and eight people for ten days. Because of an almost total scarcity of fresh produce, UNRWA has also delivered to Yarmouk multi-vitamins for infants, food supplements and rehydration kits.

"It is important to remember the context of these deliveries. Residents including infants and children have been subsisting for long periods on diets of stale vegetables, herbs, powdered tomato paste, animal feed and cooking spices dissolved in water. Infants are suffering from diseases linked to severe malnutrition, including anemia, rickets, and kwashiorkor, a condition caused by a lack of protein.

"The delivery of these aid convoys has demonstrated that the immediate suffering caused by food shortages which has affected many besieged civilians across Syria can be effectively addressed in the short and long term. We acknowledge the efforts of all parties, as the humanitarian community continues its work to address the profound suffering of civilians wherever they are in Syria."

By Mark Seibel
McClatchy Washington Bureau