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UN airlifts aid for storm-hit Syrians

Qamishly (Syria), Dec 17: UN aid agencies have begun airlifting urgently needed humanitarian aid to Qamishly in northeast Syria as winter storm Alexa dumped large amounts of snow on hundreds of thousands of homeless war victims and brought down temperatures in the region.

Households displaced by the civil war are facing one of the country's harshest winters ever in one of the country's coldest areas, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

The Alexa storm in the Middle East halted relief convoys and closed Qamishly airport for several days, delaying the UN’s aid flights.

The UN children's charity UNICEF is sending desperately needed health kits, water and sanitation supplies to 188,000 homeless adults and children who are living in extremely difficult conditions in inaccessible areas, UNHCR added.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) will use 11 airlifts in the coming days to transport enough food to feed over 30,000 people for a month, the UN said.

The first airlift landed Sunday in Qamishly airport from Erbil, Iraq, with almost 40 metric tonnes of food, including wheat flour, pasta, oil, sugar, salt, rice, canned beans and bulgur wheat. 

Two planes are contracted to do 23 rotations over the next 10 days between the two countries. UNHCR plans to send some 300 metric tons of urgently needed relief items to Qamishly on 12 flights from its regional stockpile in Erbil using a chartered Iluyshin IL-76 plane. 

The aid is intended to help some 60,000 homeless people and includes 50,000 blankets, 10,000 kitchen sets, 10,000 plastic sheets, 10,000 jerry cans, 30,000 sleeping mats and 10,000 hygiene kits among other supplies.

It is the first humanitarian airlift of supplies from Iraq into Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 and escalated into a brutal civil war.

Road access into northeastern Syria’s Al Hassakeh governorate remains perilous for aid agencies. No significant deliveries of relief items have reached the region over land since May, said UNHCR.

“Our food assistance is reaching displaced families in 13 governorates in Syria except for Al-Hassakeh which we have not been able to reach consistently for over five months now due to insecurity on the roads,” said Matthew Hollingworth, WFP’s country director in Syria. 

“We cannot leave these victims of war hungry in one of the harshest winter months of the year in Syria.”

Both the Syrian and Iraqi governments authorised the passage of humanitarian supplies between the two countries, UNHCR said.

Update: 17-December-2013