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U.N.: Must 1M Syrians die before world acts?

File - A man carries a box of food aid distributed by UNRWA in Syria’s besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus.

GENEVA: A top U.N. aid official, frustrated by obstacles to humanitarian aid in Syria, asked Friday if a million people needed to be killed and neighboring states needed to collapse before the world would take action to stop the conflict.

John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the humanitarian crisis was getting even worse with almost 2.8 million refugees in neighboring states and 6.5 million displaced in Syria.

Over 3.5 million people are in areas where aid is blocked or hindered and another 240,000 are under siege, he said in Geneva.

Moreover, Damascus has a deliberate strategy of denying medical care to the wounded by removing anything that could be used as medical supplies from convoys, Ging added, calling this “an abomination, indescribably unacceptable in 2014.”

“The valid question to ask those political leaders is ... how many poor people will you accept to be killed before you do something different?”

“It’s 5,000 a month at the moment and it’s over 150,000 already. Is it 200,000? Is it a quarter of a million? Is it a million people?”

Would refugee numbers have to hit 3 million or the main receiving countries Lebanon and Jordan collapse under the burden of caring for them before effective action is taken, Ging asked.

“So far all that we’ve heard are words: words of condemnation, words of sympathy, and so forth, for the people on the ground,” he said.

“We are calling on international support to influence the parties on the ground, starting with the government [to let aid in]. The government has first responsibility,” Ging said.

The Syrian government was “either not authorizing the free movement of all the medical supplies that need to move or whose officials are removing the medical supplies from the convoys,” he said.

Amin Awad, U.N. refugee coordinator for Syria, said the number of refugees this year could be 1 million-1.2 million, after 400,000 arrived in the first three months of the year.

The relentless bad news from Syria, with no political solution in sight after more than three years of conflict, has left the world “numb,” said Ging, fresh from a meeting with U.N. member states that produced no “step change” in how they will fill the U.N.’s $7 billion humanitarian funding gap.

Elisabeth Hoff, the World Health Organization representative in Damascus, said although the world was at saturation point with news from Syria, people on the ground could see the conflict was not stopping, but getting worse.

“And we are expecting it to get much worse as we move up toward the election,” she said.

The June 3 election, expected to return President Bashar Assad to office, is widely seen as the final nail in the coffin for peace talks that stalled after two rounds earlier this year.

Despite the political failure, aid agencies will not give up, Ging said.

“We will get to everybody, if it’s one at a time, will stick with it. We will not walk away from this. That’s our message as humanitarians.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 10, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

A top U.N. aid official, frustrated by obstacles to humanitarian aid in Syria, asked Friday if a million people needed to be killed and neighboring states needed to collapse before the world would take action to stop the conflict.

Amin Awad, U.N. refugee coordinator for Syria, said the number of refugees this year could be 1 million-1.2 million, after 400,000 arrived in the first three months of the year.

The relentless bad news from Syria, with no political solution in sight after more than three years of conflict, has left the world "numb," said Ging, fresh from a meeting with U.N. member states that produced no "step change" in how they will fill the U.N.'s $7 billion humanitarian funding gap.


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