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Feb 25, 2016 6:06 PM

AP Interview: Syria's need for humanitarian help rises

The Associated Press

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) The need for humanitarian assistance is increasing in Syria and humanitarian actors must be given access to vulnerable populations, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday.

Peter Maurer spoke in an interview with The Associated Press in the Syrian capital Damascus after returning from the central city of Homs where he visited the neighborhood of Waer where a cease fire was recently reached ending years of fighting.

Speaking about Waer residents, Maurer said: "Sometimes they get access to some food, to some water, to some medical services, and sometimes for weeks they don't."

During his tour in Waer, Maurer paid a visit to an ICRC-supported community shelter and a hospital which has been badly damaged in the fighting. The Al Walid hospital is in desperate need of equipment and medical supplies and the ICRC expects to deliver doctors with medical supplies in the coming days, he said.

"My dominant impression from visiting Syria for the fourth time is that each time the needs are more profound," Maurer added.

The United Nations says there are nearly half a million people in besieged areas in Syria and an estimated 4.5 million Syrians are in a separate category called "hard to reach."

Earlier this week, Maurer met with government officials including Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi and spoke with him about the humanitarian crisis that Syria is passing through.

"There is an understanding by the key representatives that this has become a serious humanitarian crisis which has gone far beyond the country," Maurer said speaking at the ICRC office in Damascus. "The discourse of sovereignty is a relative one when a crisis has become a global crisis."

"In that sense I think everybody needs to review its position and then to see how we can work together in order to respond, again, in a much more meaningful way to those stark needs," he said.

Maurer said that of those in most need for help are people in areas that are not controlled by the government and are the most hard to reach for humanitarian actors like the ICRC.

The United Nations' World Food Programme announced the first high-altitude airdrop of 21 metric tons of aid Wednesday over the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, which is under siege from Islamic State extremists. But WFP said later it faced "technical difficulties" and indicated the drop may have been off target.

WFP said that due to changing weather conditions and unexpected high winds over the area, 10 of the 21 food pallets that were airdropped drifted away and are currently unaccounted for.

The ICRC has refused to use airdrops to reach isolated populations in rebel-held areas on the premise that aid could get into the wrong hands. "It is very difficult to target air drops to the right people and to do it safely without a presence on the ground," Maurer said.

Syria's crisis that began in March 2011 has killed at least 250,000 people, wounded a million and displaced half the country's population. A cease fire is scheduled to go into effect at midnight Friday, the first serious attempt to stop the fighting in years.


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