Guterres calls for expansion of humanitarian aid to Syrians

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for the expansion of humanitarian aid to Syrians, as more than 70 per cent of the population in the country’s northwest were in urgent need.

Despite the UN’s massive response in Syria and across the region, more humanitarian access is required to reach those most in need and it is important to maintain and expand access, including cross-border and cross-line operations, he told the Security Council on Wednesday.

“We are in dialogue with Turkey and groups in control of the area, and I have strong hopes that it will be possible to start cross-line operations soon. But we must recognise that they will never be able to replace cross-border assistance at the present levels,” said the UN chief.

In the past 12 months, the UN has been carrying out massive cross-border operations from Turkey into northwest Syria, with more than 1,000 trucks moving through a single crossing point per month, he said, calling for consensus among the members of the Security Council on the renewal of the authorisation of cross-border operations.

“A failure to extend the council’s authorization would have devastating consequences. The Syrian people are in dire need, and it is essential to mobilize all our capacities, along all channels,” said Guterres.

For many of Syria’s people, the situation today is worse than at any time since the conflict began, he said.

As many as 13.4 million people across Syria need humanitarian assistance and some 12.4 million people are food insecure. Gross domestic product has plummeted by 60 per cent since 2011.

Jobs have disappeared, prices have skyrocketed, and goods are scarce, Guterres said, adding that people are coping by reducing meal sizes or forgoing them altogether.

The economic crisis is now compounded by drought.

“The coping strategies of the Syrian people are at their absolute limit.”

The UN humanitarian operation in Syria is the biggest in the world.

The world body is seeking $4.2 billion to ease the country’s plight, while another $5.8 billion is being requested to support refugees in the region.

Till date, $636 million for the Syria response and $600 million for the regional response have been recorded.