U.N. draws up Syria aid plan to feed 1.5 million

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 08, 2012 6:43 AM
U.N. draws up Syria aid plan to feed 1.5 million

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Thursday it was readying food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria as part of a 90-day emergency contingency plan to help civilians deprived of basic supplies after nearly a year of conflict.

"More needs to be done," John Ging of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) told a one-day Syrian Humanitarian Forum in Geneva.

"The U.N. side of the humanitarian community is looking at the process of additional food stocks pre-positioned to target 1.5 million people," said Ging, who is chairing the meeting.

He described the situation in Syria as "very fluid" and said the capacity of Syrian health services to provide trauma care and medicines must be restored. Water systems damaged during shelling of residential areas must be repaired.

The world body, which has been shut out of Syria, has drawn up an initial three-month aid plan of $105 million which is likely to translate into a funding appeal to donors, diplomats and U.N. sources told Reuters.

The U.N. estimates more than 7,500 civilians have died during Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on a popular uprising.

Top U.N. aid official Valerie Amos is midway through a three-day visit to Syria, where she made a brief visit on Wednesday to the shattered Baba Amr district of Homs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only international agency to deploy aid workers in Syria, is also taking part in the meeting.

"The political process is getting very complicated but the Syrian people cannot wait. Humanitarians have to step in," Claus Sorensen, director general of the European Union's aid department ECHO, told the talks.

"The purpose of this meeting is to give an answer to the immediate suffering...It is about getting access, access and access -- that is a precondition for actually providing any type of relief," he said.

Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Syria's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, took the floor to reject the Geneva forum as having been convened "contrary to the U.N. Charter".

"Syria is not undergoing a humanitarian crisis," Hamoui said, accusing some media of trying to "prepare the ground for foreign military intervention".

"Today we are exporting products of industry and agriculture, and livestock as well to most countries of the region," he added.

The United States, which is represented by deputy assistant secretary of state Kelly T. Clements, said in a statement issued before the talks began: "The United States continues to call on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to allow safe access to humanitarian groups to provide life-saving assistance."

Dr. Sima Bahous, assistant secretary-general of the League of Arab States, told the meeting: "We call on all parties to cease violence and killing immediately and ensure delivery of humanitarian assistance to all areas."

Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League special envoy on Syria, said he would urge President Assad and his foes to stop fighting and seek a political solution.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Louise Ireland and Robert Woodward)