U.N. official asks if 1 million Syrians must die before world acts

GENEVA Fri May 9, 2014 11:56am EDT

Members of a family walk along a street covered with garbage in al-Kalaseh neighborhood in Aleppo May 6, 2014. REUTERS/Hosam Katan

Members of a family walk along a street covered with garbage in al-Kalaseh neighborhood in Aleppo May 6, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Hosam Katan

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GENEVA (Reuters) - A top U.N. aid official, frustrated by obstacles to humanitarian aid in Syria, asked on Friday if a million people needed to be killed and neighboring states collapse before the world would take action to stop the conflict.

John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the humanitarian crisis was getting even worse with almost 2.8 million refugees in neighboring states and 6.5 million displaced in Syria.

Over 3.5 million people are in areas where aid is blocked or hindered, and another 240,000 are under siege, he told a news conference in Geneva.

Moreover, Damascus has a deliberate strategy of denying medical care to the wounded by removing anything that could be used as medical supplies from convoys, Ging added, calling this "an abomination, indescribably unacceptable in 2014."

"The valid question to ask those political leaders is ... how many poor people will you accept to be killed before you do something different?" he asked.

"It's 5,000 a month at the moment and it's over 150,000 already. Is it 200,000? Is it a quarter of a million? Is it a million people?"

Would refugee numbers have to hit 3 million or the main receiving countries Lebanon and Jordan collapse under the burden of caring for them before effective action is taken, Ging asked.

"So far all that we've heard are words. Words of condemnation, words of sympathy, and so forth, for the people on the ground," he said.

URGING INTERNATIONAL ACTION

"We are calling on international support to influence the parties on the ground, starting with the government (to let aid in). The government has first responsibility," said Ging.

The Syrian government was "either not authorizing the free movement of all the medical supplies that need to move or whose officials are removing the medical supplies from the convoys," he said.

Amin Awad, U.N. refugee coordinator for Syria, said the number of new refugees this year could be 1 million-1.2 million, after 400,000 arrived in the first three months of the year.

The relentless bad news from Syria, with no political solution in sight after more than three years of conflict, has left the world "numb", said Ging, fresh from a meeting with U.N. member states that produced no "step change" in how they will fill the U.N.'s $7 billion humanitarian funding gap.

Elisabeth Hoff, the World Health Organisation representative in Damascus, said although the world was at saturation point with news from Syria, people on the ground could see the conflict was not stopping, but getting worse.

"And we are expecting it to get much worse as we moving up towards the election," she said.

The June 3 election, expected to return President Bashar al-Assad to office, is widely seen as the final nail in the coffin for peace talks that stalled after two rounds earlier this year, ending any slim hope of a negotiated solution.

Despite the political failure, aid agencies would not give up, Ging said. "We will get to everybody, if it's one at a time, will stick with it," he insisted. "We will not walk away from this. That's our message as humanitarians."

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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