Friday, 28 November 2014 15:58

UN Humanitarian Aid Official Valerie Amos to Step Down

The top UN official for humanitarian aid, Valerie Amos, who oversaw international relief efforts in Syria and other trouble spots, is stepping down, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday. Amos had been in the key post for more than four years, overseeing major aid operations in Syria as well as in South Sudan, Iraq and the Central African Republic. Her departure comes as the United Nations is struggling to deal with a record number of displaced from conflict: 50 million people. Ban praised Amos for the extensive experience she brought to the position as under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. The 60-year-old former British minister for international development "has tirelessly advocated for people around the world affected by disaster and conflict. For her, people have always come first," he said. The announcement came the day after Amos reported to the UN Security Council on efforts to bring humanitarian aid to civilians in Syria, which has been torn by war for nearly four years. Amos appealed for more cross-border aid deliveries and urged the 15-member council to push Damascus and all sides toward a political solution. "I hope, for the sake of the people of Syria, that one is found soon," she told them. As seasonal cold winds, freezing rain, and frigid temperatures close in on conflict-torn parts of the Middle East, the UNICEF warns that seven million Syrian and Iraqi children caught up in conflict face a harsh winter in light of the UN inability to deliver aid to the affected areas. “After all that they’ve suffered on account of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the onset of winter and the growing number of families being displaced means that many children across the region desperately need protection,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “However, due to critical issues of access and funding gaps, many children will sadly not be reached.” The UN refugee agency warned last week that a $58.45 million USD funding shortfall, coupled with this year’s sharp recent growth in internal displacement, could leave up to 1 million Syrians and Iraqis without proper help as winter approaches. “The shortfall affects our winter preparedness programs, although we have already invested $154 million USD on winter aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced, and means that UNHCR is having to make some very tough choices over who to prioritize,” chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in Geneva. “Factors we are considering include the elevation of refugee settlements, the composition of the family unit (e.g. number of children and female-headed households), family health concerns, new arrivals, available family resources, shelter conditions and other considerations. For those we’re unable to prioritize, the conditions could nonetheless be very tough,” she added. “I wish we could support everybody and I wish we could give everybody more. The reality is that the population moved and continues to move quickly in 2014 and the funding continues to trickle in slowly,” added Amin Awad, director of UNHCR’s Middle East and North Africa Bureau. By December, temperatures can range from 5 degrees Celsius in more temperate areas to -16 degrees Celsius in the mountains. “But protecting people from cold costs money. Right now, we estimate the overall winter shortfall for UNHCR’s program alone to be at least $58.45 million USD for some 990,000 people – mainly newly internally displaced people [IDP] in Iraq and Syria [including a gap of $27.4 million USD for internally displaced people inside Syria, and $25 million USD for internally displaced in Iraq],” Fleming said. Last month, the UN announced it would start cut food aid to Syrians because of a shortfall in funding. "We decided that because of the funding shortfall, we will provide food to everybody but its cut down to 60%  of the normal (food) basket," the World Food Program’s assistant executive director Elisabeth Rasmusson told AFP in an interview. (Source: Syrian Coalition + Agencies)

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