Inside Story

Is the world failing Syrians?

As the crisis worsens and the number of displaced persons grows, we ask why so many are not receiving adequate aid.

The United Nations has warned that the humanitarian situation in Syria is deteriorating rapidly, and it estimates that more than nine million people – almost forty percent of the population – are now in need of help.

Delivery of aid has slowed and some reports suggest there has been little help for many people in need for almost a year.

The UN says the number of people displaced from their homes has risen to 6.5 million, and many are living without adequate food or access to electricity and medical supplies.

Officials of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent say their agency is able access most of the affected areas but the humanitarian aid has not been sufficient.

The figures are staggering, it’s catastrophic, the numbers continue to rise. Now when we have reached this very high figure, if we compare to the previous figures that went out in June when we were talking of about 4.2 million people displaced inside the country, it is not one event that has triggered this. It’s a continuation of conflict. It’s a continuation of the displacement that has now brought us to this horrific number.

by Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

“It’s not difficult to get the aid in the country. The main challenge we are facing on the ground is the aid from outside, through our partners, is not enough for the need on the ground,” Khaled Erksoussi, the head of operations for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, told Al Jazeera.

“Now we are estimating the number is more than 6 million people internally displaced, yet we are still receiving aid only enough for 2.5 million people to be distributed each month.”

Since the unrest began in March 2011, more than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed. More than two million people have fled the country, seeking refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, as well as in Iraq and Egypt.

The 15-member UN Security Council approved a statement in October, calling for increased humanitarian assistance. But it was non-binding and, speaking in October, humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said it had had little impact on the ground.

“I expressed to the council my deep disappointment that the progress that we had hoped to see on the ground as a result of that statement has not happened, and as a result, what we are seeing is a deepening of the crisis, more and more people affected and, in particular, my worries [are] about the extremely brutal and violent nature of this conflict,” she said.

Amos is calling on the Security Council to use its influence over those parties that can ensure the safe passage of medical personnel and supplies, the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance, the protection of civilians, and those who can help expand critical, life-saving relief operations.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, said his country has done its part to help humanitarian aid workers on the ground – although he did admit that visas are limited, and not granted to all groups that request access.

“We are issuing too many visas to too many people. We are a sovereign nation like any other nation and we have our own reasons to deny visa to this individual or that individual. This is an integral part of our sovereignty – of any state in the United Nations,” he said.

While all this was going on, the World Health Organization confirmed Syria’s first outbreak of polio since 1999. At least 10 children have tested positive for polio in the eastern province of Deir az-Zor, with another 12 suffering from paralysis.

Health officials are worried the outbreak could spread inside Syria, and also cross to neighbouring countries such as Iraq and Lebanon, which are overwhelmed by refugees.

Before the conflict in Syria, an estimated 95 percent of children under five were vaccinated against polio, and the disease had been wiped out. Now that safety net has been broken.

So, two-and-a-half years into Syria’s crisis, and with no sign of an end to the fighting, what hope is there for those caught up in the conflict?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Dareen Abu Ghaida, is joined by guests: Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; Khaled Erksoussi, the head of operations for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent; and Peter Kessler, the regional spokesman for the UN’s Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

“We are talking about a middle-income country, a country that was highly developed, which now of course has lost much of its industrial base. Its infrastructure largely lies in ruins, more than 5,500 schools have been seriously damaged or destroyed, some 3,000 mosques, some 15,000 doctors and surgeons, are now out of the country. Sixty percent of the ambulances inside Syria have been destroyed or no longer functioning, so we are seeing all levels of life inside the country – the healthcare system, the education system, the infrastructure, the business system – the country is fast collapsing.”

Peter Kessler, regional spokesman for the UN’s Refugee Agency, UNHCR