By Magdalena Mis
ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The World Food Programme (WFP) is preparing to make its first aid delivery in weeks to thousands of Syrian refugees stranded on Jordan's northeastern border with Syria, the head of the U.N. agency said on Wednesday.
At least 60,000 people, mostly women and children, have been stuck for months in makeshift camps in a no-man's land on the Syrian side of the border, after fleeing central and eastern Syria.
International relief workers and refugees said last month they were running out of food after a militant suicide attack prompted the army to shut the area, allowing only water trucks to enter.
The WFP said the Jordanian government agreed it could make a one-off aid delivery, possibly next week.
"There are black markets selling everything but food is between five and 10 times higher than what you would pay in other parts of the country," Ertharin Cousin, WFP executive director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
She said many Syrians had used up all their savings to reach the sparsely populated, desert area in hope of crossing the border and lacked money to buy overpriced food. Some were falling ill, she said.
"We have had reports of severe dysentery and other illnesses as a result of the challenges with water," she said.
Cousin said the WFP did not have access to the camps but relied on village elders to deliver aid, forcing the agency to limit distribution out of fear that food could fall into the hands of smugglers.
She said the agency was planning to use drones for the first time to monitor the distribution of aid.
"They (Jordanian government) won't allow us to create structures that are necessary for us to screen people for the distribution," Cousin said.
"We lack a trusted relationship with the elders, we need to test whether it's going to work and we have to monitor with these drones before we give them more food."
She said the planned distribution would include food, hygiene items, blankets and other essentials.
On Tuesday, planes believed to be Russian struck one of the camps along Jordan's northeastern border, killing at least 12 people and injuring dozens more.
If confirmed, this would be the closest aerial strike by Moscow along the Jordanian border since the start of the Kremlin's aerial bombing campaign in September in support of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad against rebel forces.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Jo Griffin; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)