UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations says the number of besieged areas in Syria’s conflict has risen to 18, up from 15 earlier this month.
As the U.N. hopes to get Syrian parties to begin peace talks on Friday, the U.N. humanitarian chief and the head of the World Food Program on Wednesday called upon Syria’s government to allow sustained access to as many as half a million people in besieged areas.
Officials said the rare convoys that reached a few besieged communities earlier this month are not enough and that the aid delivered will soon run out.
U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien calls the idea of airdropping aid “risky” and insufficient, but all options are still being discussed.
Almost 75 percent of U.N. requests for aid deliveries to Syria have gone unanswered by the Damascus government, the U.N. aid chief said Wednesday, branding such inaction as “simply unacceptable.”
With a new round of peace talks days away, the United Nations is pushing for an end to Syrian sieges that are leaving civilians on the brink of starvation in the five-year war.
O’Brien told the U.N. Security Council that access to hard-to-reach areas was “simply not happening” and that the Syrian government had yet to give approval to most planned relief convoys.
“Our ability to access hard-to-reach and besieged locations remains severely hampered by the pitiful approval rate for inter-agency convoys by the Syrian authorities,” said O’Brien.
Of the 113 requests for aid deliveries made last year, only 10 percent reached civilians.
“Almost 75 percent of requests went unanswered by the government of Syria,” said O’Brien, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.
“Such inaction is simply unacceptable for a member-state of the United Nations and a signatory of the United Nations charter,” he said.
This month, the United Nations asked Damascus to give the green light to relief convoys to 46 besieged and hard-to-reach areas but none of them has been fully approved.
International alarm over the dire humanitarian crisis in besieged towns has been growing after aid workers were able to reach Madaya this month and reported that residents were surviving on soup made from boiled grass.
Images of Madaya’s emaciated children sparked calls for an end to the sieges where some 486,700 people are living, according to U.N. estimates.
World Food Program director Ertharin Cousin told the council, “it is just a matter of time before the brutal images we have witnesses these past few weeks hit our screens again.
“The reality is, the situation today is even more severe,” she said.
More than 260,000 people have died in Syria’s war, which O’Brien described as “one of the most savage and brutal conflicts of the 21st century.”
Nearly 4.6 million Syrians have fled the country, 6.5 million more are displaced within Syria and 13.5 million people are in need of food aid.