UN estimates 40 percent of Syrians need aid

Humanitarian chief says 9.3 million people need outside help to survive as diplomatic push for peace talks continues.

Kurdish security control the flow of Syrian refugees trying to cross into northern Iraq from northeastern Syria on Oct. 23, 2013.
Mauricio Morales/AFP/Getty Images

The U.N. estimates that about 9.3 million people in Syria, or about 40 percent of the population, need humanitarian assistance owing to the country's ongoing civil conflict.

Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief, told the 15-member Security Council on Monday that 9.3 million people now need outside help to survive, up from 6.8 million in September. She said 6.5 million are now homeless inside the country, up from 4.25 million.

The population of Syria is about 23 million.

"The humanitarian situation inside Syria continues to deteriorate rapidly and inexorably," she said during a closed-doors meeting, according to her spokeswoman Amanda Pitt.

Pritt said Amos continued to press the council to influence parties "who can ensure the protection of civilians and civilian facilities" and the safe passage of medical personnel, supplies and humanitarian assistance, "and can facilitate progress in expanding critical, life-saving relief operations."

Amos' plea to the Security Council follows the Syrian government's promise Monday to ensure delivery of vaccinations and humanitarian aid across the country after an outbreak of polio in the northeast and warnings of malnutrition in areas under military siege.

Twenty-two children in Deir Ez-zor province bordering Iraq were left paralyzed last month.

Ten of the children are confirmed to have the polio virus so far, and experts say it could spread quickly across the region.

Last month Amos demanded stronger action by the Security Council to get aid into Syria, where millions of people in need have not received any help for almost a year.

Violence and excessive red tape have slowed aid delivery to a trickle in Syria. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war and millions have fled the country.

After months of talks, the Security Council approved a non-binding statement on Oct. 2 urging increased humanitarian access.

Amos has complained that the statement has had little impact on the ground.

Senior U.N. diplomats say that Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has dismissed the possibility of a legally binding resolution on aid access in Syria.

Geneva meeting

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Against this backdrop of a worsening humanitarian crisis, U.N.-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will meet senior diplomats in Geneva on Tuesday in a new bid to prepare a long-delayed peace conference.

Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and China have vetoed three Security Council resolutions since October 2011 that would have condemned the government and threatened it with sanctions.

The talks in the Swiss city aim to pave the way for a new international conference focused on ending the 31-month conflict in Syria, which has left more than 120,000 people dead and forced millions to flee their homes.

Hoping to build on the momentum of a U.S.-Russia accord reached in September to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal by mid-2014, Brahimi has been traversing the region to rally support for the conference, dubbed Geneva II.

But late on Monday Syria's information minister declared that the regime would not take part in the proposed conference if the aim is for Assad to give up power.

"President Bashar al-Assad will remain head of state," Omran al-Zohbi said in comments carried by the official SANA news agency.

The comments came after Secretary of State John Kerry met his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Riyadh on Monday to smooth over differences on Syria.

While Kerry reiterated that the U.S. opposes military intervention to end the bloodshed in Syria, Saud said negotiations "shouldn't just go on indefinitely," in reference to the proposed peace conference.

Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo on Sunday to push the Syrian opposition to attend Geneva II.

At the start of the meeting in the Egyptian capital, Ahmed Jarba, who heads the main umbrella opposition National Coalition, emphasized the group's commitment to attending Geneva II only as a united front and reiterated its unequivocal demand for a ceasefire during the talks.

The coalition has said it plans to meet in Istanbul on Saturday to decide whether to attend the Geneva peace talks, but the Syrian National Council, a key member of the bloc, has threatened to quit if it does so.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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