GENEVA - With new peace talks set to begin this week, humanitarian agencies called Tuesday for unimpeded access to millions of besieged people in Syria and for the funds needed to support lifesaving operations there.
In less than two months, Syria will mark five years of civil war that has evolved into the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. The United Nations estimates that since the conflict broke out in March 2011, more than 250,000 people have been killed, 6.5 million Syrians have become internally displaced and 4.5 million people have become refugees.
The country’s infrastructure is devastated. Schools and hospitals have been damaged or destroyed. Medicine is in short supply, and fewer than half of the children are being vaccinated against killer diseases.
Yacoub El Hillo, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said combatants are using starvation as a war tactic. He said aid agencies are unable to reach more than 4.5 million people because of military action, lack of security and attacks.
“Enough is enough," he said. "Syrians can no longer continue to pay the price for political failure. ... We do have that hope that those coming to Geneva will put aside at least their differences on humanitarian issues and allow access, and focus on their political disagreements and try to reach solutions on them. So we have that hope and expectation, in fact. Otherwise, the world will have failed the Syrian people more than once.”
Previous U.N.-mediated peace efforts have failed. Another attempt is to begin Friday when government and opposition participants gather in Geneva intra-Syrian peace talks.
Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland said the Syrian parties who gather in Geneva have the power to end the starvation and the devastation in their beleaguered country.
“We also expect the sponsors and supporters and military partners of these parties, who all sit in the international support group for Syria, to do their job, which is to put much more pressure for peace, to do much more facilitation for peace," Egeland said. "They have the power to do that.”
Egeland appealed in particular to Russia, Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to use their influence on the warring parties and take advantage of the current momentum to reach a political resolution to the Syrian crisis.