Syria: Authorities continue to undermine aid efforts, says OCHA’s John Ging

13 April 2013, Aleppo City, Syria: A young boy with leishmaniasis sores on his face stands next to his father who appeals for help to cure his son's wounds. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported an increase in cases of leishmaniasis in recent weeks. The disease, which is spread by sandflies and can scar those affected for life, is spreading rapidly due to the deterioration in sanitary conditions and lack of proper waste management. Credit: OCHA/G.Connell
On his return from Syria, OCHA Operations Director describes how government road blocks – both real and metaphoric – are preventing aid from reaching Syria’s most vulnerable.

OCHA Operations Director, John Ging, has described how Syrian authorities are actively obstructing already constrained aid efforts, and has repeated a call for the international community to find an urgent political solution to the crisis.
Speaking upon his return this week from the war-torn country, Mr Ging criticized the government’s refusal to allow UN agencies to enter opposition controlled areas from neighboring countries, requiring them instead to make perilous trips across conflict lines.

“There is no logical reason why you can cross a conflict line but not a border,” he told journalists in New York. “But there is a consequence: people are dying.”

He described how difficult it was for agencies to reach the besieged city of Aleppo. Although Aleppo sits within a short drive of Syria’s border with Turkey, aid organizations are forced to travel there from Damascus on a road dotted with government and opposition checkpoints.

“You cannot negotiate the 54 checkpoints between Damascus and Aleppo everyday with the quantity of aid that Aleppo needs. But you can drive it in 1 hour from Turkey efficiently and effectively. We need those (cross border) routes.”

Aleppo, Mr Ging said, is a city divided and devastated. Government controlled areas, although severely damaged, do have some access to water, electricity and basic commodities. However, those neighborhoods controlled by the opposition are much worse.

“We crossed into the opposition controlled area and we were shocked by what we saw immediately. The streets are strewn with rubbish. It’s a public- health disaster in the making. (The people) have no electricity. Phone networks are totally cut off. People have water once every five days.”

During the visit, Mr. Ging saw cases of leishmaniasis, which the World Health Organization says is affecting growing numbers of people in Aleppo, Hama, Al Hasaka and Deir ez Zor in recent weeks. Leishmaniasis is linked to deteriorating sanitary conditions and is spread by sandflies; it can scar those affected for life.

It was Mr Ging’s second visit as OCHA’s Director of Operation to a country now in the third year of brutal conflict. UN agencies and their humanitarian partners now say that 6.8 million people are in need of assistance. A further 1.3 million have fled the country, and are being joined by an estimated 8,000 new refugees every day.

On 18 April, the UN’s Humanitarian Chief, Valerie Amos, urged the Security Council to find an immediate political solution to the crisis, warning that its continued failure to do so could see the country reach a point of no return.
These sentiments were echoed by Mr Ging.

“This country has been taken back in time decades. It has to stop now,” he said.

“We have exhausted the language to convey the horror, and yet it goes on.”

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