Humanitarian organizations are facing enormous and dramatically growing constraints in aiding millions of Syrians overwhelmed by the “human catastrophe” that the war-torn country has become, top United Nations officials warned today, calling on the Security Council to at last do something to end the horror.
“I cannot overstate the seriousness of the current situation in Syria,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said, listing a litany of hurdles facing aid agencies, including visas delayed for up to two months, a three-day notice requirement imposed on all aid convoys and other bureaucratic delays, dozens of road blocks, and a reduction of approved non-Government Organizations (NGOs) from 110 to 29.
She stressed that conditions are most severe in combat- and opposition-controlled areas with latest figures showing 6.8 million people in need, 4.25 million people internally displaced and an additional 1.3 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries from a conflict that has killed over 70,000 people since opposition forces sought to oust President Bashar Al-Assad in 2011.
“And this body has been unable to reach the consensus necessary to support a political solution to the crisis,” she said. “While the humanitarian situation on the ground is becoming more and more disastrous every day, the limitations on the ground have forced us to being precariously close to suspending some critical humanitarian operations.
“We are approaching a point of no return. Members of the international community, particularly Members of this Council must urgently come together in support of the Syrian people,” she added. “This Council must also request the parties to ensure the safe and unimpeded access of aid organizations to those in need in all areas of Syria.”
Contrary to widely held perceptions, aid-flows across the Turkish border to Aleppo have been significantly reduced in the past two months while humanitarian convoys are regularly attacked or shot at and staff intimidated or kidnapped, she said.
Syria’s main cities have been devastated, waste is piling up, and concerns about outbreaks of diarrhoea and cholera are growing absent the urgent restoration of the most basic services. In Aleppo, doctors lack blood banks, anaesthetic or even suture thread while the hospital and its staff are regularly hit during fighting.
Children are among those who suffer most with three million already affected, including 2 million displaced, Ms. Amos said, noting that children have been murdered, tortured and subjected to sexual violence, many do not have enough food to eat and millions have been traumatised by the horrors they have witnessed.
“This brutal conflict is not only shattering Syria’s present, it is also destroying its future,” she stressed.
Ms. Amos was able to report some improvement in funding, with about half of the $1.5 billion required to cover Syria’s humanitarian needs until June now received thanks to the recent allocation of the $300 million pledged by Kuwait in January.
“We all look to this Council to guarantee the peace and security of the people of our world,” she concluded. “My appeal to this Council is on behalf of the Syrian people but it is also on behalf of all those seeking to assist them. We are losing hope. We cannot do our jobs properly. We look to you to take the action necessary to end this brutal conflict.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned the Council that without an end to the fighting soon, almost half of Syria's 20.8 million people could be in need of humanitarian help by the end of this year, noting that 400,000 refugees had fled in the last seven weeks alone, bringing those registered as refugees or waiting to be registered to 1,367,413.
If current trends continue, he said, then by the end of the year there may be up to 3.5 million Syrians refugees, together with 6.5 million people inside Syria who may be in need of help, he said by video-link from Geneva.
“These figures are terrifying,” he added. “This is not just frightening, it risks becoming simply unsustainable. There is no way to adequately respond to the enormous humanitarian needs these figures represent. And it is difficult to imagine how a nation can endure so much suffering.
“I know that, as High Commissioner for Refugees, I should confine my remarks to the scope of my mandate. But as a citizen of the world, I cannot refrain from asking: Isn't there any way to stop this fighting, to open the door for a political solution?”
Zainab Bangura, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said women and children are being raped and abducted, with both Government and opposition forces allegedly involved. “We have watched, we have discussed, and now it is time to take concrete action,” she told the 15-member body.
For her part, Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, also pleaded for a halt to the fighting to protect Syria’s children.