By Alex Whiting
LONDON, March 19 (AlertNet) - As many as 4 million people may be displaced within Syria due to the two-year-long conflict there, double previous estimates, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) said.
Nearly half of them are not getting the aid they need, Abdul Rahman Attar, president of the SARC, told AlertNet.
Fighting between rebel groups and government forces has forced millions to flee their homes since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began two years ago. More than a million have fled across the border, but the majority have sought shelter within Syria.
Of those, many have been taken in by Syrian families, but large numbers have been forced to shelter in damaged buildings or schools and stadiums.
"What they need most at the moment is shelter, food, mattresses, blankets, cooking equipment and, during the winter, heaters and candles," Attar said in an interview on Monday in London.
He added that the SARC urgently needs more food to distribute - at the moment only 2 million people, or half of those in need, are receiving food parcels, he said.
The SARC is the main distributing agency for the World Food Programme (WFP) and other U.N. agencies. WFP is planning to increase the number of people receiving food aid to 2.5 million by April.
Medical supplies and medicines are also urgently needed, he said. More than 30 government hospitals have been destroyed - a tenth of the total - and health services have deteriorated, Attar said.
The number of internally displaced people can rise or fall by half a million within days as people flee fresh fighting or seek safety across the border, Attar said.
"The fighting is escalating in the country. The only quiet areas are the (western port cities of) Tartous and Latakia."
The SARC has up to 9,000 trained volunteers, most of them between 18 and 28 years old, all working without pay. Attar said several have been killed since the uprising began two years ago, and 10 are currently in jail.
Some 70,000 people have been killed in a revolt against four decades of family rule, which started with peaceful protests but escalated into civil war after Assad's forces shot and arrested thousands of opposition members. (Editing by Oliver Holmes and Michael Roddy)