Number of Syrian children in need has quadrupled in a year, says UN

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Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA // The United Nations said on Tuesday it had delivered food to 3.4 million people in Syria in November, falling short again of its monthly target of 4 million as heavy fighting kept it from reaching hungry people in contested areas.

As winter bites, the number of children in Syria deemed vulnerable and in need of assistance has nearly quadrupled from a year ago to 4.3 million, the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) said.

“The scale of the humanitarian response needed for the looming winter is unprecedented,” it said.

UN aid chief Valerie Amos was to brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria later on Tuesday amid deep concerns about lack of access to besieged civilians.

A UN document obtained last week said about 250,000 people were beyond the reach of its aid convoys, in areas besieged by Syrian government forces or rebels.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it had reached eight communities in November that had been cut off for months, mainly in rural Homs and Deraa, but that it was gravely concerned about many others.

It said some areas in Damascus and in the north-easterly Hassakeh province, scene of heavy fighting, had seen no food deliveries for six months. Residents report severe food shortages in parts of the Damascus countryside and Homs, and say people are dying from lack of medical care.

“Our objective remains to reach 4 million people in December,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Financial needs are increasing. We used to talk about WFP needing US$30 million (Dh110m) every week, now we need $40m each week to cover operations inside Syria but also aid to Syrian refugees,” she said.

Human Rights Watch urged the Security Council to adopt a resolution threatening sanctions against parties that denied aid workers access to deliver supplies, a step up from a non-binding presidential statement urging cooperation issued on October 2.

“A second winter in the midst of conflict is bearing down on Syrian children,” Unicef spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told reporters in Geneva.

“With the freezing cold and driving rain come particular risks to the very young, the displaced inside Syria and children living in informal settlements across the region.”

In addition to the 4.3 million children who need help inside Syria, another 1.2 million living as refugees in neighbouring countries also require aid, she said.

“That is nearly 5.5 million children in need of assistance out of a pre-conflict population of about 9 million children.”