Skip to main content

U.N. agencies: Stop the suffering in Syria

By António Guterres, Ertharin Cousin and Anthony Lake, Special to CNN
updated 11:16 AM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Four million people inside Syria are in desperate need of help
  • More than half a million others have fled to neighboring countries
  • U.N. agencies say they struggle to get aid to some areas inside Syria
  • U.N.: "Living conditions in all areas of the country are deteriorating rapidly"

Editor's note: Three of the United Nations' most senior executives have written a joint opinion piece exclusively for CNN.com. They are Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Program; and Anthony Lake, executive director of the U.N. Children's Fund or UNICEF.

(CNN) -- Of all the terrible conflicts facing the world in 2013, Syria is undoubtedly the most complex and dangerous.

Violence has left four million people inside Syria in desperate need of help -- shelter, food, education, clean water, health care and protection -- and has uprooted two million inside the country and sent 600,000 fleeing the horrors of war into neighboring countries. Now a bitter winter is the new enemy.

Syria's children suffer the most. At least half of all those affected by the conflict are children. Too many have been injured or killed; too many have seen family and friends die, their homes and schools reduced to rubble.

The good news is our aid is reaching approximately 1.5 million Syrians, even in areas of fighting -- children are being vaccinated, and temporary schools are being set up, families are being fed and sheltered -- thanks to our work and to the valiant, efforts of many partners like the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Syrian refugees live in cold, wind, rain
Turkey: Syrian refugees streaming in
Refugee: When the phone rings, I worry

But we could do so much more. There are areas inside Syria where our ability to deliver is intermittent at best; where we cannot reach those in need of our help. We appeal to all the parties involved in the conflict to grant unrestricted humanitarian access inside Syria. Sadly, if this appeal continues to go unheeded, we fear the already horrific level of suffering will become even worse.

Crisis in Syria: The Refugees

With each passing day, and each passing week it becomes harder for Syrians to endure. Most cannot flee and find safe havens in neighboring countries. Some find precarious refuge with friends or the kindness of strangers in another town. Others shelter in abandoned, unheated buildings or makeshift camps. Many find themselves moving from one place to another, again and again as the conflict spreads.

Living conditions in all areas of the country are deteriorating rapidly. It is not only the violence that people fear, but the combined threat of hunger, cold and illness.

Neighboring countries have opened their borders to 600,000 Syrian refugees and, with the help of humanitarian organizations like ours, offer basic support for their survival. But even they face difficult challenges.

Most refugees are children who have escaped with mothers and grandmothers. Now, many have been refugees for 21 months. It has been UNHCR's job to register them and provide them with shelter and basic relief items like mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets.

What's next for Syria in 2013?

What is needed now is support from the entire international community to asylum countries and organizations like ours to help us do more
U.N. agencies

In most places, WFP vouchers allow them to buy fresh food from the market. UNICEF helps children overcome their trauma, gets them into schools, and gives them with books and supplies and access to better health. Host communities open their homes and their hearts. Host governments provide medical and other community services.

As the numbers of refugees grow, so does the strain on these host governments.

The resources provided by Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq are dangerously stretched.

No one can predict how long this will last. What is needed now is support from the entire international community to asylum countries and organizations like ours to help us do more.

In December, the U.N. appealed for $1.5 billion for the humanitarian response both inside and outside Syria and we are urging donors to contribute more.

If the conflict can't be stopped now, the least we can do is ease the suffering.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of António Guterres, Ertharin Cousin and Anthony Lake.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Aqsa Mahmood,19, would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. Then this Glasgow girl became an ISIS bride.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT