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Aid Workers in Syria Need Full Access to Help Those in Need
April 30, 2012

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington – With more than 1 million Syrians in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, the Obama administration wants relief workers to obtain full and unfettered access throughout the country to deliver aid to vulnerable people.

Speaking in an April 26 teleconference, Christa Capozzola, the deputy assistant administrator for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), praised the work of humanitarian workers in the country. She said these workers are “tirelessly working to get aid out as quickly as possible.”

Due to the continuing violence in the country, many of the areas they are trying to serve have questionable safety and security conditions, Capozzola said, and they are risking their lives every day to deliver assistance.

“We continue to urge the government of Syria to allow the U.N. and its partners to expand humanitarian operations as soon as possible. It’s critical that humanitarian actors have safe, regular, unhindered access to provide lifesaving aid and emergency relief to those in need,” she said.

Humanitarian organizations on the ground in Syria and helping Syrian refugees in neighboring countries include the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the World Food Programme (WFP), and many international nongovernmental organizations.

Access inside Syria continues to evolve and has improved, Capozzola said, “but it isn’t where we want it to be,” and “all the players on the ground right now are really in an extremely heroic mode to try to continue to push for better access.”

The United States has been providing the humanitarian organizations with food, clean water and basic medical and other emergency relief supplies, she said. The U.S. assistance so far has helped more than 400,000 people in Syria and neighboring countries, she added. Much of the U.S. assistance is being channeled to the WFP, which she said has been coordinating with the SARC to reach 100,000 people per month in 11 of Syria’s 14 provinces, and in some of the country’s most conflict-affected cities and zones.

Since mid-April, the WFP has been able to expand its emergency food assistance to reach 250,000 people, Capozzola said, but access restrictions “remain a significant challenge to the aid effort.” After months of working under difficult conditions, she said, the aid organizations in Syria “are extremely stretched,” and she urged more support from the international community.

Kelly Clements, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration, said an estimated 300,000 of the 1 million vulnerable Syrians are internally displaced. Inside Syria, there is also an existing Palestinian refugee population of 500,000 and 100,000 Iraqi refugees. Clements said that has meant a sophisticated relief structure was already in place before the conflict began in March 2011.

There are more than 66,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, and Clements commended “the generous efforts of the governments of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq in protecting and assisting those fleeing the violence in Syria.”

She said the Obama administration has dedicated $33 million in support of the humanitarian relief mission. “Much more is on the way,” she added.

“Our approach is to work through international and nongovernmental organizations. This strengthens our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance because those organizations have staff and infrastructure in Syria prior to the start of the conflict, which can be well utilized in current efforts to assist civilians in need,” Clements said.