By Mick Krever, CNN
A World Food Programme aid director on the ground in Syria described to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday the desperate situation of civilians in war-ravaged Homs – something he said he had “never seen” before in his career.
“Nobody is able to actually feed themselves, feed their children, feed their families, with anything but the weed, the grass that they can pick on the side of the curb and what little that they can eke out from what they’ve saved over time,” Matthew Hollingworth, Syria director for the World Food Programme, said on the phone from Homs.
“They’re living in tunnels, they’re living in basements of apartment buildings which are otherwise destroyed, basements of shopping centers.”
“They are barely, and they have been barely, existing,” he said. “I’ve never seen levels of deprivation such as this.”
The United Nations is taking advantage of a rare, and very shaky ceasefire to deliver aid to civilians in the war-ravaged Syrian city of Homs.
There were rumors on Tuesday that aid had been suspended, but Hollingworth said that it had merely been paused so that aid workers could regroup and plan for the following day.
“So far we’ve managed to get enough food and medical assistance into old Homs for around 1,500 people for one month,” he said. “We’re going back tomorrow.”
The UN is assisting civilians who wish to flee Homs, one of the hardest-hit cities in the Syrian war.
“Nobody is living a normal life today,” he said.
He and his team spent eight hours in Homs’ center, the old city, and he said that there is “not a single building left in the old city of Homs which as a structure hasn’t been affected.”
Some civilians, who have already withstood nearly three years of war, are refusing to leave, he said.
“There are people who are so attached to their ancestral homes, to what they do have inside, they just don’t want to go. And they’re in desperate need of our assistance.”
There is some fear that once many families, women, and children escape the city that the Syrian government will feel like it has more leeway to bomb what is left of Homs with impunity.
“Sadly I don’t think there are any guarantees in that sense,” Holingworth said.
Now that this mission has proven how many people have been surviving in Homs all this time and that so many people have been willing to come out of hiding, Hollingworth expressed hope that the mission could be “replicated” elsewhere.
“We’re looking at the beginning of something that could be replicated elsewhere in Syria; we’re looking at something that actually could be replicated to bring peace to normal people’s lives.