UN aid chief accuses Syria of blocking help to most needy

The UN humanitarian chief has accused the Syrian Government of blocking aid to hundreds of thousands of the country's most needy people, despite a nationwide ceasefire that has given "a glimmer of hope" that the conflict might be coming to an end.

Undersecretary-General Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council that a two-step approval process agreed to for humanitarian convoys to cross conflict lines and get to besieged areas had become, "in practice, a 10-step process".

Mr O'Brien said the result was that only one convoy delivered aid to 6,000 people in December, when the UN had asked for approval to help 930,250 people.

He also criticised the removal of more than 23,000 medical items from the trucks that did get through.

He said the situation in January was not much better, just a single convoy reaching 40,000 people.

Mr O'Brien said the Syrian Government did respond to the UN's monthly convoy plans within the agreed seven working days.

"But subsequent administrative delays on the part of the Government, including in the approval of facilitation letters, approval by local governors and security committees, as well as broader restrictions by all parties, continue to hamper our efforts," he said.

A call to Syria's UN Mission seeking comment was not answered.

Mr O'Brien urged UNSC members with influence to pressure the Syrian Government to allow aid deliveries to all besieged and hard to reach areas.

The council, in a statement, urged all parties "to intensify efforts to ensure sustained and unhindered humanitarian access".

'Staggering' humanitarian needs in Aleppo

As a result of the evacuation of rebel-held eastern Aleppo and a comprehensive UN review, Mr O'Brien said the number of besieged areas had been reduced from 16 to 13, and the number of people estimated to be living in those areas had dropped from some 974,080 to some 643,780.

He singled out four areas where humanitarian action remained "greatly needed and, sadly, often contested".

Humanitarian needs in Aleppo "continue to be staggering", he said, with at least 160,000 people temporarily displaced.

In eastern Aleppo, he said more than 65,000 people had been registered as having returned or stayed, most living in damaged houses.

He added that the UN was following up on reports that "stockpiles of humanitarian supplies" had been found in east Aleppo since late December when government forces and their allies took control.

Mr O'Brien also expressed concern for the safety of 93,500 people in the besieged western side of Deir el-Zour following reports of attacks by fighters from the Islamic State extremist group, and for more than 400,000 people in need of aid in Raqqa, the Islamic State group's headquarters.

The UN is also worried about the cut-off of the main water supply to some 5.5 million people in Damascus, and Mr O'Brien said if this was deliberate "those responsible may have committed a war crime".

Mr O'Brien warned that the humanitarian crisis would not end until the conflict, now in its sixth year, ended, and he urged the Security Council to support behind UN-led negotiations to find a political solution.

The Security Council also called for stepped-up efforts to consolidate the ceasefire and reiterated support for a political solution.

AP

photo UN aid chief accuses Syria of blocking help to most needy images

photo of UN aid chief accuses Syria of blocking help to most needy

More stories