On Saturday, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that demands access for humanitarian aid organisations in Syria.
This is an important step forward. It follows a Presidential Statement last October, which had made similar requests. But why is access for humanitarian organisations such an important issue in this crisis? Part of the issue is the sheer number of civilians who have been affected by the Syrian civil war. Some 2.3 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries; 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. A further three million civilians within Syria are in need of assistance, including an estimated 240,000 civilians who are under siege by government and opposition forces.
Combined, these figures represent half of Syria’s population. This has led to a massive assistance operation on the part of the international community. The UN has requested US$2.3 billion for assistance operations within the country and a further US$4.2 billion for operations in the region. To give an idea of the scope of these requests, the worldwide contributions to humanitarian assistance in 2012 totalled only $17.9 billion USD. Despite the crisis enveloping the country, the Syrian government has blocked significant assistance efforts within Syria. Most aid organisations are guided by four key principles derived from the Geneva Conventions: