World

UN struggling to get aid to Syrians, Security Council told

The Syrian government is preventing aid workers from reaching people who need help in the war-torn country, United Nations emergency relief co-ordinator Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council Tuesday.

United Nations emergency relief co-ordinator Stephen O'Brien says he's 'shocked and outraged'

Syrian refugee children from the northern Syrian town of Tel Abyad sit under a make shift tent in Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey. The UN says the civil war in Syria has displaced almost 12 million people since it began in spring 2011. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

The Syrian government is preventing aid workers from reaching people who need help in the war-torn country, United Nations emergency relief co-ordinator Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council Tuesday.

Calling Syria "the most acute, unrelenting and shameful blot on the world's humanitarian conscience," O'Brien outlined how government forces and non-state militias continue to defy humanitarian laws and launch attacks on civilian populations, making it nearly impossible for humanitarian workers to keep up with the growing needs.

"The courageous efforts of humanitarians to reach people with assistance should not hide the fact that widespread fighting, shifting conflict lines and intentional obstacles and restrictions put in place by all parties continue to significantly hinder the delivery of aid to people in need in Syria," O'Brien said at the UN headquarters in New York.

Millions who need help remain out of reach

In 2015, UN and non-governmental agencies were able to deliver food to 5.8 million people per month, medical treatment to nine million people, water to five million and basic relief items to three million. Still, he said, millions remain beyond humanitarian workers' reach.

Syrian refugees cross the border into Turkey after fleeing their home in Idlib because of a government airstrike. The UN has been unable to reach the majority of people living in regions of Syria besieged by government troops or militants. (Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press)

"With unimpeded access, imagine how many more we could reach," O'Brien said.

About 422,000 people live in besieged areas, where aid workers are almost entirely cut off by either Syrian forces or rebel militias, O'Brien said.

At a time when needs are deepening, we must have rapid, sustainable access to deliver essential humanitarian items to all people in need in all parts of the country without delay or hindrance.- Stephen O'Brien, UN emergency relief co-ordinator

O'Brien said relief workers from the UN and other NGOs were only able to reach five per cent of people in Syria's besieged areas so far this year.

In some cases, O'Brien said, Syrian government officials removed essential items, such as blankets and medicine, from UN convoys. Another 45 convoys are still awaiting government approval to bring supplies to citizens.

"I call upon the government of Syria to positively consider and grant these request," O'Brien said. "At a time when needs are deepening, we must have rapid, sustainable access to deliver essential humanitarian items to all people in need in all parts of the country without delay or hindrance."

About 220,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the civil war in spring 2011 and 12.2 million people need help, including more than five million children, the United Nations says.

About 7.6 million are internally displaced and more than four million have fled Syria. Another one million Syrians have been displaced in 2015, alone, O'Brien said, "some of them for the second or third time."

A Syrian government crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in 2011 led to an armed uprising, and since then, ISIS militants have taken advantage of the chaos to declare a caliphate in swathes of territory they have seized in Syria. 

"A political solution is more urgent than ever to end this futile and hopeless struggle," O'Brien said. "We must show the people of Syria that the world has not forgotten them or their country."

With files from Reuters

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