The United Nations is appealing for more than $58.5 million to provide emergency assistance to tens of thousands of people affected by the crisis in Georgia over the next six months.  Aid agencies report their biggest problem remains one of access.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Georgian and Russian authorities report nearly 160,000 people have been displaced by the war that erupted over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia 12 days ago. 

The United Nations says these people are destitute.  It says they have lost their homes and need shelter.  They need food, health and nutrition, water and sanitation and protection.

Humanitarian agencies have been responding to these needs as best they can.  But, they say their response is not good enough because of limited access to the victims of fighting. 

Two humanitarian heavyweights are in the region trying to pry agreements from Georgia and Russia for safe and unimpeded access.  In particular, they are trying to get Russia to let aid agencies enter South Ossetia where some 30,000 people reportedly are displaced.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, is at the tail end of a three-day visit to Georgia and the Russian Federation.  Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Nelson says Kellenberger met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Tuesday morning.

"He had a positive meeting with Mr. Lavrov during which the Russian authorities said they believed that the ICRC's presence and work in South Ossetia would be useful and that they would pass this message on once again to the South Ossetian authorities," she said.

"The ICRC remains ready to go to South Ossetia to evaluate the humanitarian needs there as soon as practicalities have been re-discussed with the South Ossetian authorities who had previously invited the ICRC to come to South Ossetia.  So, we are hopeful to have access to South Ossetia as soon as possible," she added. 

Nelson says the ICRC was present as an observer at an exchange of prisoners-of-war between the Georgians and Russians Tuesday morning.  She says Georgia exchanged five Russian POWs for 20 or 21 Georgian POWs.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, begins a four-day mission to Georgia and Russia on Tuesday.  A UNHCR Spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, says the High Commissioner also will stress the importance of unhindered access during his meetings with high-ranking officials on both sides. 

He says the situation on the ground in Georgia remains volatile and unpredictable.  He says a joint UNHCR-World Food Program convoy managed to enter the town of Gori on Sunday.

"This was the first time since the outbreak of the conflict on the eighth of August that U.N. agencies were given access to that city," said Guteeres. 

"However, earlier the same day, the UNHCR security mission was unable to access Gori using the same route.  Our staff who managed to enter Gori on Saturday afternoon reported the town appeared to be mostly deserted. The damage to the buildings... appear not to be extensive.  Although, there were clear indications of widespread looting of shops and apartments," he continued. 

Mahecic says the UNHCR needs $16 million for the next six months to cover the agency's protection, shelter and assistance programs for the newly displaced in the Caucasus region.  This request is included in the United Nations Emergency appeal.