Nearly 7 million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria, a senior United Nations official said Thursday, criticizing Damascus for hampering aid distribution.
"The needs are growing rapidly and are most severe in the conflict and opposition-controlled areas" of the civil-war ravaged country, Valerie Amos, the global body's humanitarian chief, told the UN Security Council.
"The latest figures show 6.8 million people in need, 4.25 million people internally displaced and an additional 1.3 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries," she added. Syria has some 20.8 million inhabitants.
Amos, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said that since January "bureaucratic obstacles have grown and are inhibiting our ability to respond."
"The limitations on the ground have forced us to being precariously close to suspending some critical humanitarian operations. We are approaching a point of no return," she said.
The UN high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, addressing the UN Security Council by video link, said the number of refugees could surpass 3.5 million by the end of the year.
"These figures are terrifying. This is not just frightening, it risks becoming simply unsustainable," he said, calling for more international support for countries hosting refugees, including Lebanon and Jordan.
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Amos said the number of approved nongovernmental organizations in Syria was recently cut from 110 to 29, and the UN has just been told that every truck needs a permit signed by two ministers to pass government checkpoints.
"When I tell the Council that a convoy from Damascus to Aleppo goes through 50 checkpoints -- half of them government controlled -- you will appreciate the impossibility of this request."
"We cannot do business this way," she said, adding that 21 visa applications are still pending, and a request to import 22 armored vehicles has still not been approved.
The needs are most pressing in border areas, she said, adding that in the region around Aleppo, "contrary to some widely held perceptions, aid flows across the Turkish border have significantly reduced in the past two months.
"So we are not reaching those most urgently in need of our help," she said.
Despite the difficulties, the World Food Programme helped nearly 2 million people in March, and UNICEF and its partners have supplied drinking water to 5 million people, Amos noted.
"I can also report some improvement in the funding situation. About half of the $1.5 billion required to cover Syria's humanitarian needs until June has been received," including a recent allocation of $300 million pledged by Kuwait.
"I ask those (UN) member state who have not yet converted their conference pledges to cash to do so urgently," she added.