LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Syria's humanitarian crisis is worsening daily, particularly for civilians in Aleppo, parts of Homs and other parts of the country suffering heavy fighting, the heads of five U.N. agencies said on Wednesday.
All too often, access to those in need of humanitarian assistance is being blocked by all sides to the conflict, a joint statement by the heads of the United Nations' humanitarian agencies said. "Aerial bombardment, rockets, mortars and other indiscriminate attacks slaughter innocent men, women and children."
The three-year-old conflict started as peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule in March 2011, became increasingly violent after government forces cracked down on the dissent, and developed into civil war.
In Aleppo, the northern city that used to be Syria’s commercial hub, at least 1 million people need urgent help, and the number of doctors caring for the 2.5 million population is reported to have fallen to 40 from more than 2,000, the statement said.
The civil war has killed 150,000 people, disrupted the lives of 9.3 million inside the country and led about 2.5 million Syrians to flee abroad, many of them to refugee camps.
A U.N. appeal for $6.5 billion in emergency funding for Syria for 2014 is only 22 percent funded.
"With a third of the nation's water treatment plants no longer functioning, with 60 percent of health centres destroyed, and with some 3.5 million people living in areas under siege or unable to be reached with humanitarian assistance, the innocent civilians of Syria seem to be surviving on sheer courage," the statement said.
Along with Aleppo, Homs was cited as a city of particular concern in the statement by the heads of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); the children's agency UNICEF; the World Food Progamme; the refugee agency UNHCR; and the World Health Organisation.
Homs, which has a mixed Sunni Muslim, Alawite and Christian population, was the scene of early protests against Assad. It has since become a symbol of the devastating nature of the Syrian civil war, with many of its neighbourhoods levelled by army bombardment.
Diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Syria have so far failed. U.N.-backed talks in Geneva collapsed in February, leaving the warring parties and their backers far from agreement - not least over the question of whether Assad should resign.
The U.N. statement urged all sides to allow unconditional humanitarian access inside Syria. It also called for the lifting of the siege that has sealed off parts of Aleppo, the Old City of Homs, Yarmouk, East Ghouta, Moadhamieh, Nubl and Zahra and the end of indiscriminate bombing and shelling.