The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), and UNICEF have started airlifting urgently needed humanitarian aid from Erbil, Iraq, to Qamishly in northeast Syria as displaced families start to face one of the harshest winters ever as winter storm “Alexa” dumped large amounts of snow and brought cold temperatures to the region.
The first WFP-chartered flight landed today in Qamishly airport from Erbil with almost 40 metric tons of food including wheat flour, pasta, oil, sugar, salt, rice, canned beans and bulgur wheat. Over the next few days, WFP plans to use 11 more airlifts to move enough food to feed over 30,000 people for one month.
People across the Middle East have come face-to-face with the ferocity of winter earlier than expected as the storm front named “Alexa” by meteorologists halted relief convoys and closed Qamishly airport for several days, delaying the UN’s aid flights.
Road access into northeastern Syria’s Al Hassakeh Governorate remains perilous for aid agencies and no significant deliveries of relief items have reached the region overland since May, making alternative routes into the region necessary.
Two planes are contracted to do 23 rotations over the next 10 days between the two countries. It is the first humanitarian airlift of supplies from Iraq into Syria since the crisis in Syria erupted in March 2011.
The UN refugee agency 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. UNHCR’s aid is intended to help some 60,000 displaced 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.
UNICEF is sending a plane-load of health kits, water and sanitation supplies to the displaced in northeast Syria.
The supplies are desperately needed in hard-to-reach areas where some 188,000 displaced people live under extremely difficult conditions in one of Syria’s coldest regions.
“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.”
UNHCR teams based in Al Hassakeh and Qamishly will help distribute the organization’s aid.
“The number of particularly vulnerable people in Al Hassakeh Governorate is estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 but we are still doing assessments,” said Amin Awad, UNHCR’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Hassakeh has been out of reach for a long time but this massive airlift will ensure that many thousands of needy Syrians receive the winter aid they require.”
Both the Syrian and Iraqi governments authorized the passage of humanitarian supplies between the two countries.
“We have been particularly worried about the situation of children and families in the northern parts of Syria because of the insecurity and limited access,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “These airlifts will help ensure they have access to safe water and health care through the tough winter months ahead.”