UN warns 90% of Syrians live below poverty line, while millions face food aid cuts

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN humanitarian chief warned on Thursday that Syria’s 12-year conflict has pushed 90% of its population below the poverty line and millions of people are at risk of seeing their food aid cut on Thursday. next month due to lack of funding.

Martin Griffiths said the UN’s $5.4 billion humanitarian appeal for Syria – the largest in the world – is only 12% funded, meaning that emergency food aid for millions of Syrians could be reduced by 40% in July.

Griffiths delivered the grim news to the UN Security Council along with a call for members to renew the expiring authorization to deliver aid to the rebel-held country’s northwest from Turkey. July 10.

But Russia’s UN ambassador, whose country is Syria’s most important ally, called cross-border aid deliveries a “zero-sum game” that undermines Syria’s sovereignty, discriminates against government-controlled territories and fuels illegal armed groups, including “terrorists in Idlib”. .”

The uprising turned conflict in Syria, now in its 13th year, has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half of its pre-war population of 23 million. A deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook large swaths of Syria in February, further deepening its misery.

Griffiths, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs who returned from Damascus on Wednesday, said the Syrian people faced “profound humanitarian challenges”. little fuel in their stoves and little water in their homes” and their difficulties come at a time when the UN and its humanitarian partners have limited means to help them.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the $397 million emergency humanitarian appeal to help earthquake victims was funded in the first few months, but the global appeal of the UN for Syria was only 12% funded at the end of June. And he accused the United States and its allies of spending far more on arms for Ukraine than the $55 billion the UN is seeking for global humanitarian needs this year, saying “it spells out Western priorities very clearly.” “.

Britain’s UN ambassador Barbara Woodward has countered that the UK’s pledge of $190 million on June 15 had taken its contribution to Syria to more than $4.8 billion so far and has said: “I look forward to Russia announcing its contribution in due course after the recent announcement that Russia is spending 2 billion a year on the Wagner Group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, after Wagner mercenary group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and his forces staged a revolt inside Russia, that Wagner and his founder received nearly $2 billion. of the Russian government over the past year.

Woodward, who traveled to the Turkish-Syrian border earlier this month, echoed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a 12-month extension of the authorization to channel cross-border aid to ensure humanitarian access to 4.1 million people in northwestern Syria.

In January, the council approved a resolution extending humanitarian aid deliveries to Idlib for six months until July 10, as demanded by Russia. Many refugees in the region have been internally displaced by the conflict. The resolution allowed aid deliveries to continue through the Bab al-Hawa crossing point, but after the earthquake Syrian President Bashar Assad allowed aid to pass through two additional crossing points at Bab al-Hawa. Salameh and al-Rai.

US Deputy Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who said the US made its biggest ever commitment to Syria of $920 million on June 15, called it “essential” to keep the three crossings open for a while. 12 months. He cited Guterres’ latest report which said anything less would be insufficient to meet the humanitarian needs in the northwest, which have never been greater. The UN chief called it a “moral and humanitarian imperative”.

Russia and Syria have been pushing for aid deliveries to the northwest across conflict lines and UN aid chief Griffiths said a 10-truck convoy from Aleppo had recently traveled from Aleppo to Idlib safely, with help for some 22,000 people. But Russia’s Nebenzia dismissed it as the only crossover delivery in the past six months “clearly timed to coincide with today’s meeting”.

“Do you seriously expect us to consider the cross-border convoy situation satisfactory after this?” he asked.

Griffiths said expanding early recovery programs – another key Syrian and Russian demand – “is the best chance for the humanitarian community to support the future of the Syrian people.”

He called for a stronger international consensus on the importance of these programs and for a relaxation of the rules to allow not only vocational training but the mentoring of young people, the construction of irrigation systems without qualifying them as projects of ” development”, and the opening of schools, whether or not they are qualified as “rehabilitated” or “rebuilt”.

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