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UN Sees 'Humanitarian Catastrophe' in Syria

  • Margaret Besheer

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, second right, visiting a Syrian refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey, March 13, 2013.

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, second right, visiting a Syrian refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey, March 13, 2013.

The heads of four United Nations departments dealing with humanitarian matters warned Thursday that the people of Syria are suffering and paying for the failure of a divided international community to find a political solution to end the more than two-year-old crisis.

U.N. Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos painted a bleak picture of life in Syria in a briefing to the U.N. Security Council.

She said towns and cities have been reduced to rubble, water and electricity are in short supply, humanitarian convoys have been hijacked, and doctors are performing surgeries at times without anesthesia or even thread to sew up wounds.

“But Mr. President our descriptions cannot begin to give you the real picture of the horrors being meted out every day," Amos said. "We have heard testimonies of houses burnt with families inside; of people being bombed and killed while queuing for a piece of bread. This is the reality of Syria today.”

Amos said Syria’s children have been particularly victimized by the crisis.

“Over three million have already been affected, including two million displaced," Amos said. "Children have been murdered, tortured and subjected to sexual violence. Many do not have enough food to eat. Millions have been traumatized by the horrors they have witnessed. This brutal conflict is not only shattering Syria’s present; it is also destroying its future.”

U.N. Refugee Chief António Guterres said via a video link from Geneva, that as of Wednesday there were nearly 1.35 million Syrian refugees in the region and that they are fleeing the country at the rate of 8,000 per day.

“Including the internally displaced, a quarter of the entire population of Syria has been forced to leave their homes," he said.

He noted that if these rates continue there could be up to 3.5 million Syrian refugees by the end of this year.

Zainab Bangura, the U.N.’s envoy on ending sexual violence in conflict, said many of the women and girls who have fled Syria have done so because they fear sexual abuse. She recounted horrifying tales of children who have suffered sexual violence and torture at the hands of both government and opposition forces.

“We know that war can be brutal, but to fight it on the bodies of women and children -- humiliating and punishing them, and subjecting them to absolute terror -- can never be acceptable," said Bangura.

Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. envoy who advocates for children in armed conflict, underscored that in addition to being displaced, maimed, tortured and killed, many Syrian children have not been to school for more than 18 months.

Thousands of schools are damaged and destroyed and others are used as shelters. Zerrougui also reported that she has received reports of teachers being killed, threatened and forced to flee.

Syria’s U.N. envoy, Bashar Ja'afari, blamed Western and Gulf Arab countries for fueling the violence in his country for their own political interests.

On Friday, the U.N.-Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakdhar Brahimi, is expected to brief the council on his efforts on the political front.
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