Syria: The action we can take
This opinion piece by Under-Secretary-General Valerie Amos was published today (9 September) on The Guardian website.
The crisis in Syria and the use of chemical weapons are leading the news agenda, dominating political and diplomatic discussions and featuring on TV talkshows. The politics of Syria are everywhere – but the people are not.
I have just been to Damascus, where the situation is continuing to deteriorate. The sound of mortar fire is loud and constant, never-ending. Whole suburbs are being shelled indiscriminately and entire towns are under siege. People and communities who have lived peacefully together for generations are turning on each other.
People are frightened; their lives are on the line as fighting, brutality and human rights abuses continue around them. They don't know what the future holds. One mother, Jameelah, told me that her children wake up screaming, asking if someone is coming to hurt them. Millions are short of food, water and electricity. Communities can no longer cope. More than 2 million people have fled the country.
The collapse of the economy means that people can't afford to feed their families and are faced with impossible decisions about whether to stay or go. They have to weigh the fear of death, injury or illness, the shortage of doctors and healthcare facilities, the skyrocketing price of basic goods, against an unknown future as a homeless person or a refugee. Their children's education, their jobs, their treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes or kidney dialysis – gone, perhaps forever. The best efforts of humanitarian aid agencies can't meet these needs.
The 1,000 UN staff in Syria and our partners, who are working with NGOs and community organizations to get help to the people who need it most, know that we are not doing enough. There are many parts of the country that are beyond our reach, either because it's too dangerous to travel there, or because our aid convoys are not allowed to pass through dozens of checkpoints controlled by different armed groups.
We hear reports that food supplies are dangerously low in some places, but there's nothing we can do. Another 3,500 UN staff are working with Palestinian refugees in Syria; their camps and communities have also been targeted.
As the work to find a political solution continues, we must remember that behind the talk of a humanitarian catastrophe, behind the numbers, it's the people who matter. The images we see may be so horrific and intense that we tune them out. It's hard for us to watch, but it's a daily reality for the Syrian people.
What I saw and heard in Syria drove home to me the massive human cost of this crisis. The UN Security Council remains divided over how to find a political solution. But in the meantime, we must come together to strengthen our humanitarian response.
I am calling again on Security Council members to work together to get us full humanitarian access so that we can reach people in the worst-hit areas, and protect civilians, medical facilities and humanitarian workers. I am asking all countries to dig deeper to find the resources we need to continue our work.
Many Syrians, women in particular, told me that the international community has abandoned the Syrian people; that we are walking by on the other side. I am determined that we work together to prove them wrong. We must show Syrians that they are not alone; that we have not abandoned them; that the world does care.