Aid Convoy Finally Reaches 5 Besieged Areas Of Syria
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For thousands of Syrians trapped by civil war, there's now a bit of relief. Convoys carrying food and medical aid have finally arrived in five of the areas where starvation and malnutrition are widespread. This is part of a deal negotiated by the U.S., Russia and other world powers. We are joined now by a representative of the Red Cross Red Crescent in Syria which is distributing the aid. Jyri Rantanen joins us from Damascus via Skype. Welcome to the program.
JYRI RANTANEN: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Give us a sense of what is happening right now today.
RANTANEN: Well, yesterday, the 115 trucks that were loaded with medicine, food and nutritional items arrived in their respective destinations, and today, the distributions have started to the people in need. We also have these mobile health units that are also going into evacuating people the are in need of medical attention
SHAPIRO: You say medicine, food and nutritional items. How long will these supplies maintain people? What exactly are people getting?
RANTANEN: Well, basically, one food parcel, you know, lasts for one month for a family of five.
SHAPIRO: So are we talking about sacks of flour, rice? What are people receiving?
RANTANEN: Well, the food parcel contains basic necessities for a family of five. There's rice. There's oil. There's tomato paste, chickpeas and so forth.
SHAPIRO: I was looking at a map of some of these areas you're delivering to, and these are areas that are being fought over by the government, ISIS, rebel groups. What sorts of challenges do you face getting into these areas to distribute the supplies?
RANTANEN: Well, the political situation is difficult, and that exactly is the case - that there are many parties involved in those discussions. And you know, it's Syrian Arabic Red Crest and the U.N. that are having those discussions with different parties. And now, as of late, we've been able to access some of these besieged areas - not all of them though. And I'd like to highlight just the fact that in addition to these five destinations that we have now access, there are about 500,000 people living under siege, and it's a constant challenge for us to get the aid convoys in.
SHAPIRO: You say about 500,000 people are living under siege. Do you know how many people live in these five areas that you have access, just for comparison?
RANTANEN: Around 100,000 - very rough figure.
SHAPIRO: How long have these five areas been isolated from humanitarian aid?
RANTANEN: Well, for instance, Zabadani-Madaya area was under siege about six months, and the reason it was particularly precarious was because it was very tightly under siege. It was mined partly. And of course, what made the situation particularly problematic in that area that it's winter in Syria. And Zabadani area is about 1,200 meters above sea level, so it's quite cold up there. So that all exacerbates the problem.
SHAPIRO: What hope do you have of reaching the rest of the people who need help?
RANTANEN: Well, it's a dynamic situation. So Syrian Arab Red Crescent - they have branches in 75 locations across the country, so when there is an opening - an access, we're very quick with our intrinsic system to get there.
SHAPIRO: You said that one package will sustain a family of five for a month. Are you confident that you will be able to get the sustained ongoing access to these areas you need so that these people will not be starving again a month from now?
RANTANEN: Well, it is up to the political situation whether we can have access. We're working hard, but there are no guarantees.
SHAPIRO: That's Jyri Rantanen of the Red Cross Red Crescent in Syria speaking with us via Skype from Damascus. Thank you very much.
RANTANEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.