U.N. Chief Paints Bleak Picture For Humanitarian Access In Syria

May 30, 2014
Originally published on May 30, 2014 12:36 pm
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. World leaders have spoken of two ways to help war-torn Syria. One is through humanitarian aid for its people. Another is through military assistance to Syria's rebels. Neither effort has been as effective as its supporters would like, and we'll talk about both in this part of the program. First the humanitarian aid - the United Nations Security Council wants to protect civilians in a conflict that seems to spare no one. Russia and China have regularly vetoed resolutions aimed at punishing the Syrian regime as well as rebel forces. But earlier this year the Security Council did manage to pass a resolution calling for humanitarian organizations to be given access to civilians. Even that has not managed ease the suffering. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Three months after U.N. called for more humanitarian access. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon he paints a bleak picture and says Syria is failing in its responsibility to look after its own people. Much of the aid that does get through goes to areas controlled by the government and Bashar Assad's regime is making it difficult for U.N. aid workers to reach millions of people in rebel held areas. A former U.N. official, Jan Egeland, who now runs the Norwegian Refugee Council welcomes the tough language in Ban's report.

JAN EGELAND: The report is good. It is tough. It is detailed. And it is honest in a sense that, yes we the U.N., yes we the international community are failing.

KELEMEN: Egeland says nongovernment groups have done their own report that suggests that more than 9 million people could be reached if aid is moved across all border points from Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon into areas controlled by Syrian rebels.

EGELAND: IT is amazing how many of these hard to reach areas in crossfire being besieged, having starving people could be reached within an hour or two by truck across the borders.

KELEMEN: And he wants to see the Security Council make clear to Syria that this is how it must be done, with or without government consent. A legal advisor to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Bassel Korkor, agrees though he doesn't think this requires another lengthy Council debate.

BASSEL KORKOR: A number of countries have already started doing this over the past year or two and we believe that the U.N. has legal authority itself to begin to undertake cross-border aid right away.

KELEMEN: Syria sees this as a violation of its sovereignty and its ally on the Council, Russia, may well use its veto power to block a measure now under consideration to allow U.N. to do cross-border deliveries without Syria's consent. Russia takes over the rotating presidency and the Council in June and that has Norway Egeland worried.

EGELAND: If they continue to give priority to supporting this government I am very worried that we will continue this decline into the abyss and we will still have the biggest humanitarian unchecked problem of this generation.

KELEMEN: More than 160,000 people have been killed in the conflict and another U.N. report out this week puts the economic costs at $144 billion. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.