LONDON (AlertNet) - Syria's already catastrophic humanitarian crisis is getting worse, and ordinary people are paying for the world's failure to resolve a conflict that has left millions of people in need of help, the United Nations aid chief said on Wednesday.
What began almost two years ago as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad has become a civil war which has killed an estimated 60,000 people and made 660,000 refugees in neighbouring countries and North Africa.
U.N. Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos used an appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos to remind global powers that four million Syrians, including two million displaced inside the country, were at risk of unrelenting violence and abuse.
She also paid tribute to the efforts of ordinary Syrians to help their fellow citizens.
"People are living in constant fear of bombing or sexual violence and there is lack of food, shelter and urgent medical attention," Amos said. “Ordinary people are paying a terrible price for the failure of the international community to agree steps to resolve this political crisis.”
"What we are seeing now are the consequences of the failure of the international community to unite and to resolve the political crisis after nearly two years,” she said. “I hope that there is no doubt left in the mind of our political leaders as to the scale of the human tragedy unfolding in Syria."
Prospects of a negotiated peace have receded as the war becomes more overtly sectarian. Western powers have become more wary of supporting the largely Sunni Muslim - and increasingly radicalised – rebellion, while Russia, Assad's most powerful foreign protector, has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the bloodshed.
With no sign of peace in sight, local and international aid agencies are struggling to meet Syrians’ basic needs.
The Syrian government has been accused of restricting access to international aid organisations. Amos said humanitarian workers were frustrated by the many challenges they faced inside Syria, where negotiations with both sides for access were slow and painstaking.
"We must not forget that the bulk of the humanitarian aid is being provided by Syrians to other Syrians, and I am inspired by the courage and dedication of humanitarian staff and volunteers in Syria who are doing all they can to help people in need," she said.
On the situation outside the country, Amos commended the willingness of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to receive Syrian refugees, but added that the influx was proving a strain on regional governments as local communities asked tough questions about the number of Syrians allowed across the border.
Amos' comments came at the end of a U.N. assessment mission in Syria from Jan. 18-22. The mission, which also visited Lebanon, was coordinated with both the Syrian government and the opposition and consisted of emergency directors from seven U.N. humanitarian agencies.
The group visited areas around Damascus as well as the governorates of Homs and Dar. It found that civil war had left Syria's agriculture in tatters, halving wheat and barley output and wreaking massive destruction on infrastructure.
Amos said the humanitarian response needed more people, more partner organisations on the ground and more funding.
The humanitarian community has appealed for $1.5 billion to help displaced people and the communities hosting them in Syria and in neighbouring countries for the next six months.
"If we do not receive these funds, we will not be able to reach the poorest and most vulnerable families who so desperately need our help," she said.