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UN Appeals for Access to South Ossetia


The United Nations is renewing its call for access to Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia. It says U.N. aid agencies could quickly provide the food, water, sanitation and other basic relief needed by tens of thousands of people once Russia gives it the go-ahead. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been granted access to South Ossetia. But, U.N. aid agencies remain sidelined.

A spokeswoman for the U.N.'s Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, Elizabeth Byrs, says the Red Cross is doing a great job. But she notes the United Nations has a different mandate, one that can complement the work done by the Red Cross.

"I think the United Nations can bring an added value," Byrs said. " We represent many relief agencies in different sectors, different clusters like shelter, sanitation, food, protection. And, I am sure the United Nations can bring more specific assistance and can complement the efforts of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Organization in order to address the needs of the population."

Byrs notes the United Nations is a much bigger organization than the I.C.R.C. and has more resources at its command. She says the United Nations can bring additional specialized staff into the area. It can delegate experts specialized in fields such as water and sanitation, food assistance and medical care to take charge of these programs.

She says specialized agencies such as the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund and U.N. refugee agency can mount the kind of humanitarian operations needed to deal with the large and complex emergency occurring in South Ossetia.

"In Tshkinvali, the capital, the regional capital-from the reports we had, 80 percent of the city has been damaged," Byrs said. "There is a need for food and water. And, I think we should be able to support the effort of the ICRC, to support the authorities to bring more assistance to the people who are in need of this assistance."

Byrs says the United Nations remains concerned about the well being of the civilian population that was caught in the fighting. She says it is essential U.N. agencies be given access to South Ossetia so they can carry out a proper assessment of the needs.