In Syria food has become a major weapon for both sides. Because of that the UN and other NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) are finding it more difficult to get food and other supplies into Syria and then to the people who most desperately need it. Currently about 40 percent of the population are either refugees or in areas where food and medical care is not available on a regular basis. The UN has identified four million people as being in desperate need and over half a million of those people are completely cut off from aid, or anything from the government. The Syrian refuses to let foreign aid to civilians in areas protected by armed rebels. The medical system in the country has been largely destroyed, with over 70 percent of medical professionals fleeing Syria and about half the medical facilities (hospitals, ambulances, medicine factories, and so on) destroyed or abandoned.
While the UN has tried to get both sides to allow food and medical aid to move freely, both the Assads and the rebels see starvation and general deprivation as effective weapons against the other side’s civilian supporters (who are more than 50 times more numerous than the armed fighters). Neither side will admit to supporting this strategy, but both practice it. The war has killed over 120,000 so far, wounded more than three times as many and chased nearly half the population from their homes. Most of these refugees are still in Syria, doubled up with neighbors or family or living in bombed out areas the fighting has passed by.
The Assads have been more successful at this strategy, in part because they have support from only about a third of the 23 million Syrians and largely because they are the government and had control (initially) of far more resources than the rebels. While many government assets have been destroyed or captured, the government still has more money, a functioning bureaucracy and access to additional cash and supplies via Russia and Iran. Assad takes care of his civilian supporters better and denies aid to rebel populations whenever possible.
The UN is seeking even more money for aid and international diplomatic help in getting the Assads to let food and medicine reach civilians that are dying from privation. At least 250,000 civilians are stuck in areas that are under siege and often unreachable by relief agencies. This is largely the result of a deliberate Assad strategy of cutting pro-rebel populations off from supplies. The goal is to make continued rule by the Assads preferable to supporting the rebels. For many civilians this is becoming a matter of life or death. In other words, you either submit to the Assads or starve to death or die from cold or disease. Some 2.5 million Syrians are now refugees outside Syria.
This Assad strategy has already caused many civilians to switch sides or, in effect, become neutral. The Assads are using food, or simply access to foreign aid groups (like the Red Cross) as a weapon and getting away with it. The UN does not want to make a lot of noise over this because the Assads are always willing to allow a little access or permit more UN and NGO people into the country if the UN reciprocates (as in not being critical of the Assads.)