UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is under pressure to ratchet up aid to nongovernmental organizations that can operate in the vast sections of Syria under opposition control, as most of the humanitarian relief sponsored by the organization ends up in the western slice of the country held by President Bashar al-Assad.
More than 85 percent of food aid and more than 70 percent of medicines went to government-held areas in the first three months of this year, compared with roughly 50-50 a year ago, because of intensified conflict on the ground, according to the United Nations.
That stark inequity, which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to reveal publicly next week in his monthly assessment to the Security Council, is likely to inflame the sentiments of Western and Arab donors who are already leaning on United Nations agencies to divert aid from the government to zones under the control of Mr. Assad’s opponents.
That, senior United Nations officials say, is easier said than done. Trucking in aid from Turkey without the government’s consent would risk expulsion from the country and in turn losing the ability to deliver relief to more than four million people who live in government-held areas.
John Ging, who manages field operations worldwide for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the agencies had been told by the government that they would be kicked out of government-held parts of the country if they crossed borders without the state’s consent.
“The calculation of what to do in the face of such threats and obstruction is very complex; history will judge as to whether we got it right or wrong,” Mr. Ging said. “In the meantime, we will never accept being blocked from saving lives and have appealed to the Security Council for help.”
Cross-border aid is a tricky matter for the United Nations agencies because of a raging debate inside the world body about whether the law allows them to enter Syrian territory without the state’s permission. But just trucking in aid from the long northern border with Turkey wouldn’t solve the problem. Some two million Syrians are deep inside the country — and getting food and medicines to them means crossing front lines and then checkpoints manned by numerous armed opposition groups.
So far, a little more than a half-dozen rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, have agreed to let United Nations aid convoys come through their areas, though none of the extremist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda, which now dominate several key areas and roads.
“Their reason is it’s not secure. Our response to that is we will take the risks,” Mr. Ging said. “We are making a careful calculation every day on what’s the best thing to do in the face of impossible circumstances.”
The debates within the world body come nearly three months after the Security Council passed a legally binding resolution urging the warring parties to allow shipments of food and medicines. Since then, the United Nations humanitarian agencies have chronicled the ways in which the resolution has been repeatedly flouted. Mr. Ging’s boss, Valerie Amos, the emergency relief envoy, has urged the Council to take further steps.
The Council has found itself deadlocked. Its original resolution has no enforcement provision, but it threatens to take “further steps” in the event of noncompliance. Now, Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg are drafting a new resolution that would seek to strengthen the original measure, possibly under Chapter VII of the organization’s charter, which authorizes force to back the Council’s demands.
Its chances of passage are unknown. Russia has long been loath to agree to any enforcement language — and is likely to veto a measure with any force.
Separately, Britain announced last week that it would dole out a greater share of aid to nongovernmental organizations that can operate in opposition-held areas without consent of the Assad government. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday hinted Washington was considering increasing support to aid groups that can operate in rebel-held territory.
United Nations officials said they were vetting smaller aid agencies that can operate in different parts of the country and were seeking to escalate donor funding so they can get relief into hard-to-reach areas. Aid groups are looking to the world body for more help in coordinating their activities, including negotiating safe passage with a variety of armed groups that set up checkpoints along the roads.
Mercy Corps, which worked in several parts of Syria, was recently prohibited from operating in Damascus. Five staff members of Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, were released this week after being abducted in northern Syria by an armed group that the aid organization refused to name.
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(via NY Times)