Securing access to millions of Syrians in need a major challenge – UN official

Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos (left) opens the Syrian Humanitarian Forum in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

19 February 2013 – Humanitarian agencies are trying to keep up with the rising needs stemming from the ongoing conflict in Syria, the top United Nations relief official said today, while noting that limited access is preventing everyone who requires assistance from receiving it.

“We are crossing conflict lines, negotiating with armed groups on the ground, to reach more people in need. But we are not reaching enough of those who require our help,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos.

Speaking to the press in Geneva following the Syria Humanitarian Forum, Ms. Amos said that limited access in the north is a major problem that can only be solved using alternative methods of aid delivery.

Securing access to the millions of Syrians who desperately need help was the focus of today’s gathering, the seventh in a series held to tackle the increasing needs arising from a conflict that will soon enter its third year and has already taken a heavy humanitarian toll.

“We are watching a humanitarian tragedy unfold before our eyes. We must do all we can to reassure the people that we care and that we will not let them down,” said Ms. Amos, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

She said the situation in Syria is getting worse, with the violence causing widespread destruction and having a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Syrians, women, men and children.

In January, Ms. Amos carried out her fourth visit to the Syrian capital, Damascus. She said she was conscious during her visit of the constant shelling and saw firsthand the destruction of lives, of infrastructure, and the erosion of basic social services like health and education.

“The UN estimates that 70,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the crisis. People do not feel safe or secure. The number of people in need has quadrupled since June last year,” she stated.

“More than half of Syria’s public hospitals have been damaged. Many of those that are open lack basic supplies like antibiotics and pain killers. One in five schools has either been destroyed or is being used as a collective shelter. Some 400,000 out of about 500,000 Palestinian refugees need humanitarian assistance.

“And the flow of people out of the country continues unabated,” she added. Over an eight-week period from mid-December, 255,000 Syrians fled their country. Out of the 860,000 refugee total, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are together sheltering 97 per cent of them.

Humanitarian agencies are trying to keep up with the rising needs, Ms. Amos noted. The World Food Programme (WFP) is scaling up to meet the needs of 2.5 million people by April. About half of their current 1.75 million beneficiaries are staying in opposition-controlled or contested areas.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) with their partners have reached more than a million children with vaccination campaigns against polio and measles, many in areas held by opposition groups.

At least half of the total affected population is made up of children, according to UNICEF, which noted that many have been internally displaced by the ongoing conflict, and are living in collective shelters with few belongings and often lacking even the most basic needs.

“Even as the situation deteriorates, UNICEF has managed to expand its operations to deliver essential relief supplies like blankets, children’s clothes, hygiene items, plastic sheets, and high-energy biscuits,” said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Syria. “Many of these deliveries were made as part of recent cross-line operations.

“With the security situation as it is currently, it’s been a huge challenge to be able to reach some of these areas” he added. “But thanks to the efforts of our partners and our own staff on the ground, we have succeeded in making real progress.”


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