After two years of escalating civil war, the people of Syria confront a humanitarian catastrophe, with an estimated four million people -- roughly 20 percent of the population -- lacking adequate food and shelter. Hundreds of thousands have left for refugee camps in neighboring countries, and as many as three million are displaced within Syria itself.
The United Nations reported Tuesday that its relief operations have been compelled to cut food rations provided to 1.5 million Syrians because of dwindling resources and rising demand.
"The humanitarian community in Syria is struggling," said UN relief official John Ging. "People are losing hope because they just see more violence on the horizon, they just see deterioration."
"It's becoming more and more difficult just to do the very basic things to help people to survive," said Ging, who is director of operations at the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Conditions have grown increasingly desperate as the Syrian winter sets in, and many families are living in tents or unheated dwellings without adequate clothing.
"As the Syrian conflict drags on, shelters are filling up, support systems are breaking down, savings are running out and violence is engulfing an increasing number of communities," the UN news service IRIN reported. "As a result refuge is increasingly hard to find for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing violence, some of them zigzagging across the country in search of safety -- often in vain."