Figures released today by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) show that millions of Syrians are facing a food crisis after the first winter storm of the season. The IRC survey reports the cost of bread has risen in some areas by 500 percent over two years, with 78 percent of communities surveyed now identifying food as their greatest need. Accessing clean water is difficult for more than half of the communities, the survey found.

Material goods are also in short supply as temperatures plummet to below freezing. Blankets are unavailable for purchase in 95 percent of the communities surveyed, and where they are readily available, the cost ($27 USD) is approximately 93 percent of the average monthly income. Many community leaders told the IRC parents that four in five parents see children’s clothing and baby supplies are their greatest material needs. The IRC also found severe shortages of basic medical items such as antibiotics, painkillers, and gauze in eight governorates.

The IRC surveys are ongoing and have already reached more than 500 communities across Syria. The goal is to better determine the needs of civilians. The United Nations says some 9.3 million Syrians are in need of aid, more than one in every three people still in the country. 

IRC president and CEO David Miliband said: “These findings show that starvation is now threatening large parts of the Syrian population. With polio on the loose, and a sub-zero winter already here, the people of Syria now face months of more death and despair. We are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe that is receiving far too little attention and funding around the world.”

The IRC released some of its findings on the same day the United Nations made its largest funding appeal ever, to help Syrians and host communities make it through the difficult months ahead. The IRC’s David Miliband called for global donors to dig deep, and to ensure aid can get to where it needs to go. 

“Today’s new UN appeal is critical, with the current appeals only 68 percent funded and more than nine million Syrians in need of aid. Agencies delivering aid require immediate safe access to civilians, across borders and conflict lines, which is why the IRC is calling for a humanitarian resolution to be passed at the UN Security Council.”

IRC regional director, Mark Schnellbaecher said: “While the civil war is the cause of the humanitarian crisis, lack of freedom of movement both across international borders and within Syria is a major contributor to the current disaster. Humanitarian aid shipments are often held up at Syria’s borders, while inside the country, a patchwork of ever-shifting areas of control is severely limiting access to those in the most need.

 “Recent United Nations figures bear out the access challenges with estimates of those living in hard to reach areas totaling 2.5 million, while there are close to 250,000 who cannot be reached at all because they live in areas under siege.”