10 million Syrians do not know where their next meal is coming from

Ten million people inside Syria do not know where their next meal is coming from and some have resorted to scavenging for food, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.

As a new round of UN-led peace talks begins in Geneva, WFP spokesperson Bettina Luescher told journalists that the situation in Syria is "dire" in opposition-held areas outside the capital Damascus.

"When our colleagues went to besieged Eastern Ghouta in rural Damascus this month the community leaders told them that people were resorting to eating food from garbage. Children are so weak that they are fainting at school. They're eating animal fodder, they're skipping meals, they're begging on the streets. This is a nightmarish situation in the 21st century that does not have to happen."

Around 400,000 people live in Eastern Ghouta, and a total of three million are in besieged and hard-to-reach areas elsewhere in Syria.

UN aid coordinating agency OCHA has confirmed that a humanitarian convoy to Eastern Ghouta had to turn back on Monday amid fierce fighting.

The development comes as Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura prepares to meet the Syrian opposition at the UN in Geneva on the opening day of a new round of intra-Syrian talks.

His office indicated that he had received a message from the Syrian government that they would be arriving in the Swiss city on Wednesday.

Migrant deaths crossing Mediterranean top 3,000 in 2017

More than 3,000 migrants and refugees have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year, the UN said on Tuesday.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesperson Joel Millman confirmed that this is the "fourth straight year" that the threshold had been overtaken.

"This mark passed sometime probably over the last weekend we've gone through months of falling arrivals, falling deaths, then this past weekend, something that hasn't happened very much this year, we recorded eight deaths in Spain, one in Greece and at least 31 in Libya."

The IOM spokesperson said that it was significant that the 3,000 deaths had been reached in late November and not in July, as was the case in 2016.

Fourteen out of every 15 deaths this year have occurred on the so-called Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Europe.

Yemen diptheria infections spreading faster than we would wish, says UN health agency

To Yemen now, where a deadly diphtheria epidemic is spreading fast amid ongoing delays getting medicine into the country, despite an easing of a blockade put in place by a Saudi-led coalition.

Issuing the warning on Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) that the disease has claimed 20 lives in more than a dozen governorates.

Yemenis are already reeling from more than two years of conflict between the international alliance supporting President Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels, as well as the world's biggest cholera epidemic.

Here's WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier on the diphtheria threat:

"It's spreading faster than we would wish, so while some of the sources have been identified, it's spreading over 13 governorates and that's quite large. So everything depends on having access, on getting medicines and supplies in, on getting the vaccinations in and together with UNICEF and partners to vaccinate all the necessary age groups."

A vaccination campaign for more than 300,000 infants got under way at the weekend, coordinated by WHO and UN Children's Fund UNICEF.

But a boat carrying diphtheria vaccines has yet to dock in the war-torn country, held up by an apparent backlog in unloading other vessels carrying humanitarian aid and other supplies to Yemen.

These included a World Food Programme (WFP) charter which has reached harbour with 25 tonnes of wheat.

The UN agency confirmed that it is also coordinating two aid flights a day to Yemen from Amman in Jordan and another from Djibouti.

WFP provides help to seven million people but a $350 million shortfall has meant that half-rations have been put in place for some.

Source: United Nations Radio

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