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October 02, 2013

UN Makes Renewed Effort to Help Struggling Syrians

by Margaret Besheer

The United Nations humanitarian chief says new action from the Security Council could help aid workers in Syria assist more than 2 million people in urgent need who have been unreachable for months.

The U.N. Security Council adopted what is known as a "Presidential Statement" Wednesday, urging the Syrian authorities to take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations in the country. It is a step below a legally binding resolution, but carries the weight of all 15 council members.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said humanitarian workers need full and sustained access to reach every person in need, wherever they are in Syria, and they must be protected to do their work safely.

“If the commitments and practical steps in this statement are implemented, humanitarian workers will be able reach over 2 million people who have been unreachable for many months,” she said.

Only 12 aid organizations are currently authorized to operate in Syria.  The U.N. says entire suburbs and towns have been deliberately overwhelmed or cut off by fighting.  Dozens of checkpoints block main roads between towns and cities and bureaucratic impediments have hindered aid delivery to millions in dire need.

The humanitarian situation has been of concern for months, but action had been delayed by the overall paralysis in the Security Council.

That stalemate was broken on Friday, when the permanent members reached agreement on a deal for Syria to put its chemical weapons arsenal under international supervision.

The humanitarian statement was drafted by council members Luxembourg and Australia. Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan told reporters after its adoption that there was “a need for speed” on this issue.

“We know that the regional impact is enormous, it is really potentially quite catastrophic, but the humanitarian situation inside Syria itself simply cannot be underestimated. …. Over one-third of the housing has been destroyed; and over 2 million refugees - 1 million of whom are children," he said. "One refugee is created in Syria every 15 seconds.  Since we have been speaking this morning, there are another 11 refugees in Syria.”

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the council statement aims to facilitate access for humanitarian relief to all parts of Syria.

“It calls on them expedite visas and permits for humanitarian personnel and convoys, to facilitate humanitarian access - including across conflict lines and across borders - and to assure their security," he said. "And it urges all parties to demilitarize medical facilities, schools and water stations.”

The United Nations is also facing a $3 billion funding gap for its humanitarian work in Syria.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked Kuwait to hold another donors' conference early next year to try to meet that shortfall.

The crisis in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people, displaced more than 4 million people inside the country and sent 2 million more fleeing to neighboring countries.