Syria: Don’t let the people of Syria down, appeals UN Humanitarian Chief

19 February, 2013
January 2013, Syria: Despite insecurity and limited funding, aid organizations are reaching affected families in Government and opposition-held areas. Credit: OCHA/David Gough
January 2013, Syria: Despite insecurity and limited funding, aid organizations are reaching affected families in Government and opposition-held areas. Credit: OCHA/David Gough
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UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos chaired the 7th Syria Humanitarian Forum in Geneva today, calling on the international community not to let the people of Syria down. 

“We know that humanitarian action alone cannot solve the problems facing the Syrian people,” she told the media after the forum. “This crisis requires a political solution and I hope that all who have influence with the parties will succeed in bringing them to the negotiating table as soon as possible. We must do all we can to reassure the people that we care and that we will not let them down.”
Ms. Amos, who has visited Syria four times since the beginning of the crisis in March 2011, said she saw first-hand “the destruction of lives, infrastructure and 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. About 4 million people in Syria need assistance, including 2 million people who are internally displaced. More than 850,000 are now living as refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and North Africa. 

Over half of Syria's public hospitals have been damaged and those that are open lack basic supplies such as antibiotics and pain killers. One in five schools has either been destroyed or is being used as a shelter for displaced families.

“The situation is getting worse every day and the widespread violence is having a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Syrian women, men and children,” warned the humanitarian chief.

UN agencies and humanitarian partners have started stepping up assistance across the conflict lines. The World Food Programme began scaling up its food distribution to reach 1.75 million people this month, about half of them in opposition-controlled or contested areas. Working with more local partners, it aims to reach about 2.5 million people by April. UNICEF and the World Health Organization with their partners have vaccinated more than a million children against polio and measles, many in areas held by opposition groups. UNHCR distributed blankets, mattresses and household goods to over 400,000 people last year. About 40,000 children in conflict areas now have access to education and psycho-social support to cope with the crisis.

The Syrian Government recently authorized three additional international NGOs – Merlin, Mercy Corps and the Norwegian Refugee Council – to work in Syria but this brings the total to just eleven, said Ms. Amos. “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. Limited access in the north is a major problem that we can only solve using alternative methods of aid delivery.”    

Last Saturday (16 Feb), a UN inter-agency mission delivered the first batch of critical, life-saving relief supplies including food, clothes, mattresses and blankets to about 6,000 internally displaced people in Syria’s north-western province of Idleb, where nearly 50,000 people are said to be living in makeshift shelters exposed to harsh winter conditions.

“The joint relief convoy, including eight UN agencies, shows that outreach is possible from inside Syria,” said Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria Radhouane Nouicer. “It encourages us to continue to increase our efforts to reach more people in need across the country.” More inter-agency missions and aid convoys are expected to arrive in the area shortly to assist some 25,000 people.   

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