Aid workers in Syria are being “blocked at every turn” by regime forces, senior UN officials have complained.
Some 4.6 million people are living in hard-to-reach areas across the country, relief officials have said, as they urged the Security Council to do more to ensure humanitarians have access.
“We continue to be blocked at every turn, by lack of approvals at central and local levels, disagreements on access routes, and by the violation of agreed procedures at checkpoints by parties to the conflict,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the council in a briefing alongside senior officials from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
He noted that “if one brave aid worker drives through the checkpoint without the facilitation letter and the command transmitted down the line” the guard or a sniper shoots.
“The fault is not at the door of the UN or the [non-governmental organisations] – it is the Syrian Government and the governors,” O’Brien said. “We need to be allowed to pass – not as a favour but as a right – and safely.”
An estimated 644,000 people live in 13 areas under siege in the country, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which O’Brien heads.
While the figure is down from last year, “it should not be mistaken for progress,” he stressed. He added that groups use sieges as weapons of war, which “does nothing other than to punish civilians, who already bear the brunt of this terrible conflict”.
There are also reports of stockpiled aid in eastern Aleppo since the city’s evacuation, which OCHA is looking into, O’Brien said.
Some seven million people in Syria are now food insecure and an additional two million are at risk, added Amir Mahmoud Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director of the WFP.
Food production has hit an all-time now as widespread insecurity hampers access to land and supplies, fuel is in short supply, and infrastructure is often damaged.
“Four in five Syrians now live in poverty with almost 80 percent of households across the country struggle to cope with food shortages,” said Abdulla.
If nothing changes, Syria could become “a country of subsistence farmers with most of its commercial agriculture base eroded.”
“The war has gutted the health system,” added WHO’s emergencies programme executive director Peter Salama, with more than 100 attacks launched against health centres in 2016 alone.
The humanitarian warnings come as Russia announced UN-sponsored Syria talks in Geneva scheduled for 8 February had been postponed until the end of the month.
The UN has not confirmed the statement.