Red Cross 'can't cope' with worsening Syria aid crisis

Red Cross 'can't cope' with worsening Syria aid crisis
Geneva: The humanitarian situation in Syria is now so bad that the Red Cross is struggling to cope, the new head of the international aid agency said on Thursday.

"The humanitarian situation is getting worse despite the scope of the operation increasing," Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told reporters in Geneva.

"We can't cope with the worsening of the situation."

The ICRC, which works in collaboration with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to deliver aid in the conflict-wracked country, has "a lot of blank spots" with regard to meeting the needs of the people on the ground, he said.

"There is no doubt the seriousness of the crisis is deepening every day, and this trend has been uninterrupted since the summer," he said.

Mr Maurer, who met with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in September, said the amount of aid getting into the country had increased following his visit after dipping to a "low level in the summer months" owing to "serious obstacles".

After the talks, Damascus had allowed 14 ICRC aid lorries carrying food and medicine to enter the country, Mr Maurer said, adding that the agency had also secured the use of warehouses inside Syria.

"There is an unknown number of people in Syria who do not get the aid they need," Mr Maurer said, adding that the Red Cross had no strategy in the country beyond taking action when and where it could.

"There is no point in planning. You try every day to fill the crack that is opening."

At the briefing in Geneva, the Red Cross chief described the agency's delivery of aid to Homs on November 4 as "an utterly important achievement."

"But that was only one city," Mr Maurer said, adding that the agency had not gained access to Aleppo "in a while" and could get into other cities such as Idlib "but not far beyond."

Mr Maurer said his organisation had "no overall figures, only estimates, suspicions" on the level of need.

His comments come after a relief group for the war-ravaged country claimed on Wednesday that almost all international aid sent to SARC headquarters in Damascus is being confiscated by the regime and never reaches civilians in need.

The claim, by the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organisations, was rejected by the Red Cross and the UN World Food Programme.

Mr Maurer meanwhile said the ICRC had access to "some" of the people detained in Syria's some 25 central prisons, but said Damascus had yet to follow through on promises of broader access, including to other kinds of detention centres.

The conflict has claimed some 37,000 lives since it erupted in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, while the United Nations has estimated the number of people in need within Syria at around 1.2 million.

The UN also estimates that more than 2.5 million people have been affected by the war, with more than 358,000 refugees registered in neighbouring countries and many more unregistered.