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O’Brien Says around 700,000 Live under Siege in Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A general view shows a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at the U.N. headquarters in New York April 16, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

New York- The U.N. Security Council held a session on Thursday on the humanitarian situation in Syria and heard briefings from U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien alongside senior officials from the World Food Program and the World Health Organization.

O’Brien briefed the council on the secretary-general’s report on the humanitarian situation in Syria. He said: “With the evacuation of eastern Aleppo, the number of those besieged in Syria was reduced. Following a comprehensive review by the United Nations, it is now estimated that as of January 2017 some 643,780 people are living in 13 areas under siege.”

“Despite high rates of in-principle approvals, only one or two approved convoys have reached their destinations in each of the last three months. In December, one – just one – inter-agency convoy delivered assistance to 6,000 people out of a total of 930,250 people requested under the December inter-agency convoy plan,” said the report.

On Wadi Barada, just outside of Damascus city, it said fighting has already displaced an estimated 17,500 people. “Water remains cut-off from the main source since the fighting began, affecting the primary water supply for some 5.5 million people in Damascus and surrounding areas, who now only have minimal access to water.”

The food situation, in particular, is extremely worrying said Amir Mahmoud Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP).

He said some seven million people in Syria are now food insecure and an additional two million are at risk. Food production has hit an all-time now, he said, as widespread insecurity hampers access to land and supplies, fuel is in short supply, and infrastructure is often damaged.

“Four in five Syrians now live in poverty with almost 80 per cent of households across the country struggle to cope with food shortages,” said Abdulla.

If nothing changes, Syria could become “a country of subsistence farmers with most of its commercial agriculture base eroded.”

Speaking by teleconference from Geneva, Peter Salama, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergencies Program, said that war has taken a serious toll on civilians and the health workers, hospitals and clinics serving them. Until recent security developments, 30,000 people had sustained war-related injuries every month, he recalled.

“The war has gutted the health system,” with more than 100 attacks launched against health centers in 2016 alone, he said, adding that it has led to acute shortages and blocked access to services. Half of all Syrian children were not receiving the required vaccinations and more than 300,000 pregnant women lacked the care they need.

Underscoring the importance of the safety of those providing such services, he said WHO is working to ensure access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas, and an end to attacks on health workers, with perpetrators being held accountable. Moving forward, Syria’s health system must be rebuilt, with strong support from the international community, he emphasized.