‘Sharply deteriorating conditions’ in besieged areas of Syria, UN aid agencies report

In Madaya, rural Damascus, Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers offload humanitarian emergency supplies. Photo: UNICEF

18 January 2016 – United Nations humanitarian agencies expressed concern today that an estimated 200,000 people are facing “sharply deteriorating conditions” in the besieged western side of Deir-Ez-Zor city in Syria, while the top UN relief official stressed that the world body continues to act “impartially, neutrally and independently” to reach people in need throughout the country.

“Residents need immediate and urgent humanitarian assistance, particularly food, nutrition and health supplies, and there are reports of severe cases of malnutrition and deaths due to starvation,” UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

While Government stocks reportedly continue to provide bread in Deir-Ez-Zor, there are very few supplies given limited humanitarian or commercial access to the area.

“Approval has been secured for an emergency inter-agency United Nations airlift to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to the area,” noted Mr. Haq. “However, fierce clashes in the vicinity of the military airport have prevented the operation from proceeding,” he added.

The UN is also reporting that its agencies, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent, are on their way to take food, fuel and health supplies to Zabadani, while nutrition and health teams began conducting field assessments in Madaya and Zabadani. This is the third humanitarian convoy delivering aid to Madaya, Foah and Kafraya, and the first for Zabadani this month.

Meanwhile, in an open letter to Syrian civil society, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said he is “angry and frustrated about the situation in besieged areas in Syria and the terrifying toll it is having on its children, women and men.”

He stressed that humanitarian staff work tirelessly every day to bring life-saving assistance to people affected by the conflict, often at great cost, noting that more than 80 humanitarian workers have been killed and many others remain missing.

“The Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, his team, the United Nations and its partners have taken serious and repeated risks to reach people in need, in some cases coming under direct fire from parties to the conflict or suffering the ultimate price, selflessly serving others,” Mr. O’Brien stated. “This has not and will not, however, deter them from their mission.”

Underlining that he supports “all initiatives that can bring the violence to an end and help the UN and its partners on the ground reach people in need,” Mr. O’Brien said he can assure that “the UN is neither too close to any party nor acting in such a way to encourage the use of siege tactics.”

“It is our duty to act impartially, neutrally and independently, and to have contact with all parties to negotiate unimpeded and safe access to those who are vulnerable and in need, regardless of how or why their need arises,” he insisted.

“But let me be clear, only a political solution for peace and the respect for international humanitarian law by all parties will make the biggest difference for Syrians seeking assistance and for humanitarian organisations the ability to provide it,” he concluded.

Over 100,000 Syrians in Madaya, Biqin, Foah, Kafraya and Al Waer have recently received assistance, including food and medicine.


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