UN Security Council reaches rare Syria agreement | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 19.04.2013
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Middle East

UN Security Council reaches rare Syria agreement

Nearly 7 million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria, a UN official has said. The Security Council issued a unanimous non-binding statement condemning any efforts to hinder assistance to Syrians.

UN aid chief Valerie Amos said that of a population of 20.8 million, 6.8 million people need assistance. The 15-member Council responded with an unenforceable, non-binding message urging both the government and the opposition to cooperate with UN agencies.

"The needs are growing rapidly and are most severe in the conflict and opposition-controlled areas," Amos told the Security Council.

Amos said Syria had cut approved NGOs from 110 to 29, and the UN has just been told that every truck needs a permit signed by two ministers to pass government checkpoints.

Despite the difficulties, the World Food Program helped nearly 2 million people in March, and UNICEF and its partners have supplied drinking water to 5 million, Amos noted.

She said that, including a recent $300 million (231 million euros) allocation from Kuwait, the UN had received about half of the $1.5 billion needed for humanitarian aid to Syria through June.

The council urged Syria to open its borders to aid shipments and called on all sides to "protect civilians and respect international human rights and humanitarian law, recalling the primary responsibility of the Syrian authorities in this regard."

"Members of the Security Council urged all parties to ensure safe and unimpeded access for aid organizations to those in need in all areas of Syria," the statement read.

"They deplored the obstacles to the provision of humanitarian assistance and underlined the urgent need to remove all such obstacles, including those which are bureaucratic in nature."

Mounting toll

Amos said obstacles have grown since January, "inhibiting our ability to respond." The needs are most pressing in border areas, she said. Amos added that in the region around Aleppo, "contrary to some widely held perceptions, aid flows across the Turkish border have significantly reduced in the past two months, so we are not reaching those most urgently in need of our help."

"The limitations on the ground have forced us to being precariously close to suspending some critical humanitarian operations," Amos said. "We are approaching a point of no return."

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said the number of people displaced internationally could surpass 3.5 million by the year's end. Guterres warned that with no end to fighting, half of Syria's population could be in need of humanitarian help by the end of 2013. He said 400,000 people had fled in the past seven weeks and the number could grow to 3.5 million refugees, together with 6.5 million people inside Syria who could become in need of help.

"These figures are terrifying," Guterres said. "This is not just frightening: It risks becoming simply unsustainable."

‘Humanitarian catastrophe'

On Wednesday Zainab Bangura, the UN special representative of the secretary general on sexual violence in conflict, had presented a report to the Security Council that accused Syria's military and intelligence forces of a campaign that had left women "raped, tortured and humiliated."

"The situation in Syria is a humanitarian catastrophe with ordinary people paying the price for the failure to end the conflict," Amos said. "I do not have an answer for those Syrians I have spoken to who asked me why the world has abandoned them."

According to the UN, the war - which began as peaceful protests that turned violent when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tried to crush the revolt - has claimed more than 70,000 lives. Internal displacement stands at 4.25 million people, and an additional 1.3 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

mkg/ipj (AFP, Reuters, AP)