LONDON (AlertNet) - The number of people in need of aid inside Syria has risen to 6.8 million, and an additional 1.3 million have fled to neighbouring countries, the U.N. aid chief told the Security Council on Thursday.
This marks a sharp rise from the previous figure of some 4 million in need. There are now 4.25 million people displaced by conflict inside the country, double an earlier estimate of at least 2 million.
At the same time as humanitarian needs are soaring, U.N. relief agencies are struggling to get help to people suffering from a lack of food, water and basic services because security risks and bureaucratic obstacles are curbing access, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said in New York.
"I cannot overstate the seriousness of the current situation in Syria. I do not have an answer for those Syrians I have spoken to who asked me why the world has abandoned them," she said.
"While the humanitarian situation on the ground is becoming more and more disastrous every day, the limitations on the ground have forced us to being precariously close to suspending some critical humanitarian operations. We are approaching a point of no return," she warned.
On Monday, the heads of the United Nations aid agencies made a rare political appeal to world leaders, urging them to act urgently to break the diplomatic deadlock around Syria if they want to prevent the crisis from reaching a dangerous tipping point.
"We are losing hope. We cannot do our jobs properly. We look to you to take the action necessary to end this brutal conflict," Amos told the member states of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.
The majority of Syrians have been affected by the destruction of essential infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, devaluation of the currency, rising food prices, and shortages of fuel, electricity and water, she said. In the city of Aleppo, a U.N. convoy last week saw waste piling up in the streets, raising fears diseases will multiply as the summer heat approaches, she added.
AID EFFORTS THWARTED
Meanwhile, it is getting even harder for aid agencies to reach people, whose needs are most severe in conflict and opposition-controlled areas, Amos said.
The U.N. aid chief noted that bureaucratic obstacles had worsened since her last visit to Syria in January, and "are inhibiting our ability to respond".
Visas for humanitarian staff have been pending for weeks, and the list of NGOs approved by the government to work with U.N. agencies was recently reduced from 110 to 29, she said. Only four additional international aid groups have received permission to work in Syria this year, and just one is operational.
It was agreed more than a year ago that U.N. hubs could open in six key cities, but so far only two are open with a commitment to continue discussions on two more, Amos said.
All aid convoys require 72 hours' notice, and in the last 24 hours, the U.N. was informed that every truck needs a permit signed by two ministers to enable clearance through government checkpoints. There are some 50 checkpoints on the road from Damascus to Aleppo, half of them government-controlled, Amos noted.
Across the country, humanitarian convoys are regularly attacked or shot at, and staff are intimidated or kidnapped, she added.
"We cannot do business this way," Amos stressed. Nonetheless, aid agencies "have a duty and responsibility" to try to reach people in urgent need.
"I was horrified to hear accounts, during my recent visit to Turkey, of children dying from hunger in these (opposition-controlled) areas. We need to get aid into these hard-to-reach areas," she said, urging the Security Council to consider alternative forms of aid delivery, including cross-border operations.
MORE FUNDING DELIVERED
Kuwait announced on Thursday that it would make good on a pledge made at a conference it hosted in January to provide $300 million in aid for Syrians, easing financial constraints that had threatened to halt some humanitarian operations. The money is being disbursed to U.N. agencies, the International Organisation for Migration and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Donors have now provided around half of the $1.5 billion requested by the United Nations to help people inside Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries until June, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A revised appeal is due to be issued by the end of May.
Amos urged other countries to convert their promises into cash.
While the civil war intensifies with no solution in sight, it is children who are suffering some of the worst impacts, with more than 3 million already affected, she told the Security Council.
"Children have been murdered, tortured and subjected to sexual violence. Many do not have enough food to eat. Millions have been traumatised by the horrors they have witnessed," she said. "This brutal conflict is not only shattering Syria’s present; it is also destroying its future."