US says Syria blocks aid to besieged areas; some eat grass

Stephen O'Brien said the UN has received reports that severe food shortages are forcing some people in Daraya to eat grass.

By: PTI | United Nations | Published: April 6, 2016 9:02 am
Syria, Syria war, Syria food shortage, Syria crisis, Syria civil war, Islamic State, UN Syria food shortage In this photo released on Thursday, March 24, 2016, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a Syrian government soldier takes his position on hill at the entrance of Palmyra, central Syria. (SANA via AP)

The United States accused the Syrian government on Tuesday of preventing humanitarian aid deliveries to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas of the country as required in UN resolutions, even as a cease-fire that was meant to allow such deliveries continues.

US Ambassador Samantha Power on Tuesday told reporters after a closed-door emergency briefing to the Security Council by the UN humanitarian chief that less food aid reached millions of people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas in March than in February, when the cease-fire began. She gave no figures.

Power said the situation in Daraya, which is close to Syria’s capital, Damascus, and hasn’t received “one crumb of UN food” since 2012, has generated “a lot of outrage and heartbreak.” Humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the council last week that Syria’s government hasn’t approved aid for three besieged areas “mere minutes’ drive away from UN warehouses in Damascus” Duma, East Harasta and Daraya.

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He said the UN has received reports that severe food shortages are forcing some people in Daraya to eat grass. Power also held up a photo of a skeletal boy in Madaya, which recently received several aid deliveries. She said O’Brien described yesterday how the UN tried to evacuate him for medical treatment but the Syrian government refused and the boy, who was around 14 years old, died on Monday.

O’Brien said on March 30 that desperately needed aid has reached only 30 per cent of Syrians living in besieged areas and less than 10 per cent in hard-to-reach areas this year, even with the cease-fire. He said many of the 4.6 million Syrians in need in these areas can’t be reached because of insecurity and obstruction by combatants. Power said the United States and other Security Council members are appealing to those with influence on the Syrian government to ensure that every area is reached.

She said the government has proven “susceptible to influence when the pressure is intense enough … and it’s going to take a very, very, very large push to change the trajectory for people who are this malnourished.” Her appeal was clearly aimed at Russia, Syria’s closest
ally.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told reporters that under the cessation of hostilities agreement a humanitarian working group was created in Geneva, “and this is where we are working” on implementation of UN resolutions adopted in December and February calling for humanitarian access to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

“It’s a better way to work together,” Safronkov said.

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