Syrian humanitarian agenda must not be hijacked, says UN aid chief

Fri, Oct 19, 2012, 01:00

THE HUMANITARIAN agenda in Syria should not be hijacked for political ends, United Nations emergency relief co-ordinator Valerie Amos said on a visit to Dublin.

“Very often there are attempts to try and confuse the political and the humanitarian dimension and it’s really important that we always remember humanitarian action doesn’t favour one or other side,” she told The Irish Times.

“It’s very much focused on helping the people who need the help and so it’s always very important not to hijack the humanitarian agenda for political ends,” the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator added.

She was created a life peer as Baroness Amos in 1997, later became Britain’s secretary of state for international development, then leader of the House of Lords, and took over her present position two years ago. She has vivid memories of her visit last March to the Baba Amr district of the Syrian city of Homs, an opposition stronghold that had been subject to fierce bombardment for weeks by government forces.

“The image that I’ve never been able to get rid of is going into Baba Amr and just seeing all of those houses, public buildings and everything else, just completely destroyed,” she said.

“There were a few people standing on a street corner and we saw a couple of families who had gone back to their homes to try to retrieve whatever possessions they could. We had no idea where the people had gone.

“There were members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with us who had been trying to get in to give much-needed assistance, but there was no one to give assistance to.

“We were told that quite a lot of people had fled to another part of Homs and we spent some time trying to negotiate to get in. We got agreement that we could, but when we got to the checkpoint there was gunfire and the person on the checkpoint said that they wouldn’t allow us in.”

Access was eventually permitted. “We assessed at that time that there were about a million people [throughout Syria] who needed help.”

Her second Syrian visit was in mid-August. “It was clear that the humanitarian situation had deteriorated considerably.” By this stage she estimated some 2.5 million of the total 22 million population were affected by the conflict including 1.2 million internally displaced, most of them living in public buildings such as schools.

As a result, large numbers of children had no school to attend.

There was also disruption of healthcare services, employment and food supplies. “So you have lots of consequences of the conflict and we are now trying to scale up operations to try to meet a bigger caseload.”