UN chiefs say world '˜must not stand silent' on Aleppo victims

The heads of major UN organisations yesterday called for access to civilians cut off from humanitarian aid in Syria, saying the world 'must not stand silent' even though the high-profile siege of the Syrian city of Aleppo is over.

Civilians in the former rebel-held Zebdiye district in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Civilians in the former rebel-held Zebdiye district in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The joint appeal from the UN’s refugee agency, humanitarian aid co-ordinator OCHA, children’s agency Unicef, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation urged for an “immediate, unconditional and safe access” to all Syrian families and children in need.

According to the statement, up to 700,000 people – nearly half of them children – live in 15 besieged areas of Syria.

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Many lack “the most basic elements to sustain their lives” and face “continued risk of violence,” said the statement, which came from Davos in Switzerland, where business, political, cultural elites and non-governmental group leaders are gathering for the World Economic Forum.

WFP’s Ertharin Cousin, Anthony Lake of Unicef, Stephen O’Brien of OCHA, WHO’s Margaret Chan and Filippo Grandi of UNHCR were in essence striving to keep international attention focused on the nearly six-year civil war in Syria, which has by some estimates left half a ­million people dead.

Last month, Russian air power helped Syrian president Bashar al-Assad crush the opposition-held enclave in the northern city of Aleppo, a major win for Mr Assad’s forces, which had besieged the rebels for months.

“The horrors of the siege of the eastern districts of Aleppo have disappeared from the public consciousness – but we must not let the needs, the lives and the futures of Syria’s people fade from the world’s conscience,” the UN agency chiefs said in the statement.

“We must not let 2017 repeat the tragedies of 2016 for Syria,” they said.

The statement added: “All over Syria, people continue to suffer because they lack the most basic elements to sustain their lives – and because of the continued risk of violence. We – indeed, the world – must not stand silent while parties to the conflict continue to use denial of food, water, medical supplies, and other forms of aid as weapons of war.”

The statement also noted that children are at heightened risk of malnutrition, dehydration, diarrhoea, infectious diseases, and injury.

Many need support after being exposed to traumatic events, violence and other violations.