Up to 2.5m need aid in Syria


United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said today as many as 2.5 million people were in need of aid in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's forces have been fighting rebels seeking his overthrow for 17 months.

Speaking in Syria where she met Prime Minister Wael al-Halki and other officials this week, Ms Amos urged government forces and rebels to do more to protect civilians caught up in the violence.

"Over a million people have been uprooted and face destitution. Perhaps a million more have urgent humanitarian needs due to the widening impact of the crisis on the economy and people's livelihoods," she told reporters in Damascus.

"Back in March, we estimated that a million people were in need of help. Now as many as 2.5 million are in need of assistance and we are working to update our plans and funding requirements."

A United Nations appeal to raise $180 million (€146 million) for Syria this year, based on earlier estimates of humanitarian needs, is only 40 per cent funded so far, UN officials say.

Efforts to increase emergency aid have also been hindered by escalating violence, which has thwarted plans for regional humanitarian offices across Syria to deliver assistance, and by Syrian restrictions on aid groups operating on its territory.

Ms Amos said she had met displaced families in Damascus and the town of Nabk northeast of the capital who were housed in public buildings and schools, which are due to reopen next month.

"Their needs for health care, shelter, food, water and sanitation are growing," she said. "The UN and its partners are reaching more people with emergency aid every month. But we are only meeting some of the needs.

"It's not enough. Insecurity and restrictions are part of the problem. But funding too is holding us back," she said, appealing for international donations to support the emergency effort.

Elsewhere, Russia told the United States today it favours a continued UN presence in Syria, saying a UN exit from the Middle Eastern nation would have "serious negative consequences".

In a meeting with US under secretary of state Wendy Sherman, Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov emphasised "the need to maintain the UN presence in Syria," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The United States has said unarmed UN observers should not remain in Syria beyond an August 19th deadline but that Washington is willing to consider an alternative UN presence in the country to deal with the deadly 17-month conflict.

China's foreign minister today urged a visiting Syrian government envoy to start talks with the opposition at an early date but said Damascus should also take steps to meet the people's demands for change.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told Envoy Bouthaina Shaaban that China was also "extremely worried" by the situation in her country, the ministry said in a statement on its website.