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December 03, 2013

UN: Better Aid Access Needed to Nearly 3 Million Syrians

by Margaret Besheer

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos is urging greater access for humanitarian workers in Syria, saying only “modest progress” has been made in recent months in reaching some of the nearly 3 million people in besieged areas.

Valerie Amos has made numerous trips to the region and has met with all influential parties over many months in an attempt to remove obstacles to the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid across Syria.

In October, the 15-nation U.N. Security Council was able for the first time to agree on anything having to do with the crisis, calling for better access for aid agencies.

On Tuesday, Amos updated a closed meeting of the council on the situation in Syria. Afterwards, she told reporters there has been “modest progress” in the granting of visas for aid workers and noted the Syrian government’s decision to allow the U.N. three more aid hubs within the country, raising the total to six. She said improvements in other areas, however, have been insufficient.

“However, I did remind the council that on some of the more difficult areas - protection of civilians, demilitarization of schools and hospitals, access to besieged communities and also cross-line access to hard-to-reach areas - we have not seen any progress on those,” said Amos.

She said about a quarter of a million people are in communities that aid workers cannot reach at all, while 2.5 million are in difficult to reach areas that aid workers may have been to only once.

Diplomats have said that if the October council statement did not lead to satisfactory progress on the humanitarian front, the council could consider a resolution.

French Ambassador Gérard Araud, who took over the council’s rotating presidency this week, said at a news conference there is reluctance among some council members to go for a resolution ahead of peace talks scheduled for late January in Geneva.

“We have very clear messages from certain members of the council that they are willing to impose a veto even on humanitarian aid [resolution]. So it is an important issue," said  Araud. Certain members of the council believe that a crisis on the humanitarian issue could undermine Geneva II, so members of the council prefer that the debate not be opened at this point on a humanitarian resolution.”

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said his government has recently taken measures to facilitate humanitarian access, including the granting of more visas and running more aid convoys jointly with the U.N. and international aid agencies. He said these agencies may now enter Syria through Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, but not from Turkey.

The United Nations estimates that about 6.8 million people in Syria are in need of critical assistance.