Last updated: 28 July, 2015

UN aid chief calls for greater Syria access

United Nations aid chief Stephen O’Brien said Tuesday he hoped to secure better humanitarian access to Syrians most in need during his maiden visit to Damascus next month.

Speaking to the UN Security Council, he expressed hope that the visit “will provide an opportunity to constructively engage with the government to address some of the significant access challenges that seriously impede humanitarian operations.”

“Carving out space to meet the humanitarian needs of Syria’s people is today’s imperative,” said the former British MP, who replaced Valerie Amos at the end of May.

He told journalists after his appearance before the Council that the details of his visit had not yet been finalized, but that he hoped to be able to go to Homs in western Syria.

O’Brien described the level of suffering for most Syrian civilians as “gargantuan,” with 12.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations estimates that around 220,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011.

O’Brien said more than one million people have been displaced so far this year, many for a second or third time, on top of 7.6 million displaced inside Syria at the end of 2014.

This month, the number of registered Syrian refugees reached four million, the largest refugee population from a single conflict around the world in more than a quarter century.

“We must have rapid, sustainable access to deliver essential humanitarian items to all people in need, in all parts of the country, without delay or hindrance,” O’Brien said.

He singled out attacks on medical facilities for particular condemnation, saying there had been 14 such assaults recorded in June, 12 of them air strikes.

O’Brien also urged donors to step up their financial support for UN humanitarian efforts, saying the response plan for the conflict is only 27 percent funded.

But he acknowledged there were “no humanitarian solutions to this crisis.”

“A political solution is more urgent than ever to end this futile, hopeless cycle of brutality and violence,” O’Brien said.

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura is due to address the UN Security Council on Wednesday about months-long consultations with parties to the conflict on relaunching peace talks.

Responding to questions from reporters, O’Brien called for caution and stressed the risks in creating safe zones for Syrian civilians that would attract people very quickly.