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04/15/2013

UN agencies to global leaders: stop the humanitarian crisis in Syria

UN humanitarian agencies are fed up.

Today, the World Health Organization emailed journalists a sharply-worded letter practically shouting at political leaders to stop the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The letter also warns that UN agencies in Syria are exhausting their resources and "precariously close" to suspending some of their own humanitarian efforts in the coming weeks.

The letter was published as an op-ed in the New York Times and signed by the heads of five major UN agencies, including: OCHA emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos, World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake and World Health Organization director-general  Margaret Chan.

Here is what the letter said:

APPEAL BY HEADS OF LEADING UN HUMANITARIAN AGENCIES FOR THE PEOPLE OF SYRIA

 
Enough. Enough.
After more than two years of conflict and more than 70,000 deaths, including thousands of children …
 
After more than five million people have been forced to leave their homes, including over a million refugees living in severely stressed neighbouring countries …
 
After so many families torn apart and communities razed, schools and hospitals wrecked and water systems ruined …
 
After all this, there still seems an insufficient sense of urgency among the governments and parties that could put a stop to the cruelty and carnage in Syria.
 
We, leaders of UN agencies charged with dealing with the human costs of this tragedy, appeal to political leaders involved to meet their responsibility to the people of Syria and to the future of the region.
 
We ask that they use their collective influence to insist on a political solution to this horrendous crisis before hundreds of thousands more people lose their homes and lives and futures—in a region that is already at the tipping point.
 
Our agencies and humanitarian partners have been doing all we can. With the support of many governments and people, we have helped shelter more than a million refugees. We have helped provide access to food and other basic necessities for millions displaced by the conflict, to water and sanitation to over 5.5 million affected people in Syria and in neighbouring countries, and to basic health services for millions of Syrians, including vaccinations to over 1.5 million children against measles and polio.  
 
But it has not nearly been enough. The needs are growing while our capacity to do more is diminishing, due to security and other practical limitations within Syria as well as funding constraints. We are precariously close, perhaps within weeks, to suspending some humanitarian support.
 
Our appeal today is not for more resources, needed as they are. We are appealing for something more important than funds.  To all involved in this brutal conflict and to all governments that can influence them:
 
In the name of all those who have so suffered, and the many more whose futures hang in the balance: Enough! Summon and use your influence, now, to save the Syrian people and save the region from disaster.

Update: A video has now been posted of the UN agency heads reading the above letter out loud.

 

Jennifer Yang is the Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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