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The shortage of bread in Aleppo, and across Syria, has exacerbated an already extreme humanitarian crisis. (Avo Kaprealian and Sedki Al Imam/Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Beirut) January 9, 2013  –  Jesuit Refugee Service staff and volunteers based in Aleppo have expressed concerns for displaced populations trying to gain access to emergency relief assistance under such circumstances.

After nearly two weeks of electricity cuts, half of electrical supply in the northern city of Aleppo was restored before Christmas. However, the acute bread shortage gripping the country continues, exacerbated by fuel, gas and heating oil shortages.

During electricity cuts, the JRS field kitchen became the hub around which activities evolved, and one of the few where there was any heating.

"Everyone wants to be in the field kitchen – it's the only place where there is any heating, food, electricity and hot water," explained Elias*, a JRS staff member and the field kitchen coordinator.

Recently, this kitchen reached a new high record, distributing 300,000 meals within six weeks. At a cost of 340,000 Syrian pounds a day, the field kitchen produces up to 10,000 meals daily –  a total of three tons of food – that is then distributed amongst the five school-shelters JRS is responsible for, as well as to other schools and mosques supported by JRS.

"We have tried to reduce costs by using second-grade diesel for the burners; it reduces the bill by 50 percent. Our consumption is about 170 liters (45 gallons) a day of diesel for cooking and running the generator to provide electricity," said the field kitchen coordinator.

The kitchen's ability to provide consistent electricity has been invaluable to the JRS team.

"We'd go to the kitchen and print out all the necessary distribution lists, family lists and other data that we needed for each day…. We would charge our phones, laptops, electrical appliances and take turns having a shower", continued Elias.

Other logistical challenges. Due to the closure of main routes in many of the main cities, and the inaccessibility of certain neighborhoods, the outreach team in Aleppo often spends several hours a day stuck in congestion.

"The traffic jams and checkpoints delay us a lot, it's very frustrating as we waste so much time," said an outreach coordinator.

Yet, despite these difficulties in the day-to-day running of operations, distribution continues at a steady rate. At least 50 families a day receive their food baskets from the outreach team – on good days without any major delays it is possible for 100 families to receive food baskets. Blankets, mattresses and hygiene kits are also distributed to families.

"The most urgent needs for families are bread, winter clothes, shoes and blankets. Heating is a big problem but with no gas, fuel or electricity – what's the solution? People are chopping the trees in the streets for fire. It is so cold now in Aleppo, but so many children only have summer clothes to wear," explained the distribution coordinator, Rana*.

At the distribution center in central Aleppo, an average of 75 families per day who previously registered with JRS come to the centre to collect their food baskets. These are people who are able to safely access the centre, for those who cannot, the outreach team goes to them.

"Last week 125 families came to the centre, I think our daily average will soon increase to 100 families per day, people are in dire need of everything," continued Rana.

Every day, between seven to 10 families receive a voucher from the distribution centre that they can use at a shop nearby to obtain clothing.

"The voucher system is also about restoring dignity and allowing people to choose for themselves what clothes they might need. Our work is not only about providing emergency assistance, but also about helping people cope with their situation psychologically," added Rana.

As the conflict enters its 21st month, JRS teams foresee further expansion of their services to meet the ever-growing needs of those in the most vulnerable circumstances, both inside and outside of Syria.

To help support this JRS emergency project, please click here and donate today.

How can you help? 

Below is a list of items that people in Syria urgently need in order to survive the winter. With your financial help, we can alleviate the suffering of Syrians.

• $65: a food-basket for a five-person family for one month. 
• $105: a basic personal kit: one mattress, two sheets, one pillow, two winter-blankets and two towels. 
• $157: winter clothing for one family (pullover, jacket, trousers, shoes. 
• $210: one month's rent of an apartment for a displaced family. 
• $5232: cost of providing cooked meals for 10,000 people for one day. 

*The names in this article have been changed to protect the security of the persons concerned.

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