Middle East

U.N. aid chiefs appeal for access

File - A boy receives humanitarian aid in Douma, Damascus March 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)

GENEVA: The heads of five U.N. agencies Wednesday made an impassioned call to both sides in Syria’s conflict to allow aid deliveries countrywide, end siege warfare and halt indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

“The war escalates in many areas. The humanitarian situation deteriorates day after day,” the leaders of the U.N. humanitarian aid office and its children’s, refugee, food and health divisions said in a joint statement.

“For the civilians remaining in the cities of Aleppo and the Old City of Homs, as well as other parts of the country experiencing heavy fighting, the worst days seem yet to come,” they warned.

In Aleppo alone, at least 1 million people are now in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, but the road linking the northern city to Damascus has often been cut by the warring sides.

“All too often, humanitarian access to those in need is being denied by all sides. Aerial bombardment, rockets, mortars and other indiscriminate attacks slaughter innocent men, women and children,” the aid chiefs said.

In Aleppo, there are now only 40 doctors for a population of 2.5 million, where once there were more than 2,000.

And across Syria, more than 9.3 million people are now affected by the conflict that erupted in March 2011, they said.

“With a third of the nation’s water treatment plants no longer functioning, with 60 percent of health centers destroyed and with some 3.5 million people living in areas under siege or unable to be reached with humanitarian assistance, the innocent civilians of Syria seem to be surviving on sheer courage,” they said.

Aid agencies are doing all they can to save lives and alleviate suffering, despite the huge risks staff face operating in a war zone, the five U.N. officials said.

They set down three demands.

They called on all in involved in the conflict to “enable unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need, using all available routes either across lines inside Syria or across its borders.”

Both sides must also lift the sieges imposed on civilians, they said, citing areas including Aleppo, the villages of Nubl and Zahraa in Aleppo province, the Old City of Homs, the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, as well as the Ghouta suburbs of the capital.

They also called for an end to the “indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilians by the government and opposition groups” and all other violations of international law.

Separately, the Syrian authorities said aid distribution would resume in Yarmouk Thursday, while a Russian plane carrying humanitarian supplies touched down in Latakia.

State news agency SANA said the resumption of aid for Yarmouk was one of several topics discussed during a meeting of the Higher Relief Committee, chaired by Social Affairs Minister Kinda Shammat.

The Russian plane, SANA added, contained 34 tons of humanitarian aid donated by “the Russian government and people and the Armenian community in Russia.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 24, 2014, on page 8.




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