DAMASCUS/PARIS: The United Nations humanitarian chief Friday called on the U.N. Security Council to put “sustained pressure” on the Syrian government and rebel groups to let in desperately needed relief.
Valerie Amos told the council the United Nations had been unable for nearly a year to reach more than 2.5 million civilians trapped in the worsening Syria conflict.
She said on top of well over 100,000 war dead, diseases, including feared new cases of polio, were spreading quickly and many people were dying “silently” from cancer and diabetes due to lack of treatment. Malnutrition is also on the rise.
“Words, despite their ability to shock, cannot really paint a picture of the grim and gruesome reality of Syria today,” Amos, the U.N. chief humanitarian coordinator, told the 15-nation council.
The council, largely divided over the 31-month-old conflict, agreed to a nonbinding statement this month calling for unhindered humanitarian access.
But Amos said appeals for local cease-fires had gone unheeded.
The U.N. had made no “major breakthrough” since the statement was made in efforts with the Syrian government to get extra visas for aid workers and lift other bureaucratic obstacles.
She said with up to 2,000 armed groups operating in Syria, “clashes among these groups are increasingly common and key humanitarian routes have been cut off by fighting.”
Kidnappings of aid workers and hijackings of aid trucks are “increasingly common.” Some drivers now refuse to join convoys “as they fear for their lives,” Amos told the council.
“Without real and sustained pressure from this council on the government of Syria and opposition groups on the ground, it will be impossible to make progress,” she said.
She said humanitarian workers now face “a race against time” and called on the council “to exert influence and take the necessary action to stop this brutality and violence.”
Amos’ plea came amid news that Syria’s war had destroyed livelihoods and collapsed the economy, leaving more than half the country’s population in poverty.
According to a report commissioned by U.N. agencies this month, the economic devastation wrought by the conflict could be felt for years to come.
“More than half the population now live in poverty, with 7.9 million people becoming poor since the beginning of the crisis, of whom 4.4 million now live in extreme poverty,” the report said.
Unemployment has soared to 48.6 percent, education in Syria “is in the midst of a silent disaster” with 49 percent of children out of school, and the health sector faces “significant collapse,” it warned.
Syria’s GDP is in a state of “spectacular collapse,” the report said, having contracted by 34.3 percent in the first quarter of 2013, and 39.6 percent in the second, compared to 2012.
“The Syrian economy experienced massive de-industrialization as a result of business closure and bankruptcy, capital flight, looting and destruction,” it said.
By the first quarter of 2013, the country had suffered a total economic loss of $103.1 billion, which is equivalent to 147 percent of Syria’s 2010 GDP at constant prices.
The war has also spawned black markets and criminal activity, as well as “economies of violence that will plague post-conflict economic regulation,” the report said.
“Increasingly, business people are operating in markets punctuated by economies of violence, where racketeering, extortion, smuggling and criminality encroach on legitimate businesses and endanger the welfare of ordinary business folk,” it added.
The war’s distortion of the labor market has meanwhile forced many ordinary people to seek jobs in smuggling, extortion, kidnapping and looting to survive, despite the dangers.
The economy has also suffered from the flight of skilled workers and capital, with agriculture having risen to an “unprecedented” 54 percent share of GDP.
The report was commissioned by the U.N. Development Fund and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, and was prepared by the Damascus-based Syrian Center for Policy Research.
The report’s findings focus on the period covering April to June 2013.
Separately, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that tens of thousands of people alone had escaped from the region of Safira in Aleppo province, fleeing nonstop heavy bombing in a “massive exodus.”
The non-governmental organization, which has staff on the ground in the conflict-ridden country, said Friday some 130,000 people had fled the district in the northern province of Aleppo, including almost all those who lived in the town of Safira.
“Faced with the magnitude of the needs of these displaced people, humanitarian aid is insufficient,” MSF said in a statement.
Marie-Noelle Rodrigue, head of operations at MSF, said the “extremely violent attacks” in Safira since Oct. 8 had forced those who had already fled violence in other places to escape again.
“These people arrive in areas that already host a large number of displaced people, where the rare humanitarian players that are present are faced with huge needs,” she said in the statement.
According to MSF, new arrivals in the town of Manbij – to the northeast of Safira – were crammed into nearby farms, a makeshift camp on a parking lot that only has one latrine or unfinished buildings that have no doors or windows – just as winter approaches.
The organization also deplored the targeting of medical establishments, citing a field hospital that was destroyed by a barrel of TNT thrown from a helicopter on Oct. 21.
“The United Nations as well as countries that have an influence in this conflict must show the same determination in settling the issue of humanitarian aid than in the issue of chemical arms,” MSF head Mego Terzian said.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in September demanding the destruction of Syria’s entire chemical arsenal, after the regime’s alleged use of poison gas on its own people.