By Jill Dougherty
Facing a "serious escalation" of violence in Syria, the chief United Nations organization that coordinates emergency aid is warning that more Syrian civilians will die if contributing nations do not follow through and fund its relief operation.
"We have used the terminology 'appalling,' 'desperate' and 'deplorable,' says John Ging, operations director and chair of the Syria Humanitarian Forum for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"We have run out of language to describe how it is for the civilian population. It is physical and it is psychological."
Humanitarian agencies such as the World Food Program, the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization, Ging says, have launched a major operation in Syria but are facing "an incredibly complex and dangerous situation to develop networks to be able to deliver to the areas that have been affected by the conflict."
The main challenge remains lack of security, which prevents the agencies from reaching all the people in Syria who need food, medicine and blankets.
But there has been progress, he says. In April food assistance was reaching 200,000 people; through June this increased to 500,000 people and into July they expect delivery to 850,000.
A senior U.N. humanitarian officer who briefed reporters Friday on the situation in Syria said there has been a "breakthrough" in dealing with the Syrian government. "Bureaucratic delay and obstructions, the officer said, "have been largely removed."
The Syrian government is following through on what it has agreed to do, but some difficulties still remain.
One of the biggest obstacles right now, OCHA's John Ging says in a statement, is lack of international funding. OCHA's appeals are only 20% funded at the moment, he says, and "that means they are 80% short."
OCHA's coordination work is funded from the United Nations' regular budget, member states' voluntary contributions and private donations.
"There has been a limited donor base supporting humanitarian operations in Syria over the last number of months," Ging says, "and that donor base has to be expanded, otherwise we will not be able to continue our delivery and our scale-up."
Next Monday, in Geneva, the United Nations is holding the 4th Syrian Humanitarian Forum and Ging says he hopes it will mobilize donors.
"We hope that coming into the forum we will hear pledges from a broader base of donors that will fill that gap and that, at least, we will be able to deliver the life-saving humanitarian assistance that the civilian population of Syria so desperately need as we await the resolutions of the issues that are causing this conflict."
"Of course," Ging adds, "we hope and pray that the conflict will end immediately; its consequences are horrific."
Opposition groups say more than 15,000 people have died since the violence began in March 2011.
Because of limited journalist access and the incessant fighting, there is no way to know how many Syrians have died from hunger, injuries and illness. Relief groups such as the International Committee of the Red Cross have struggled to reach people in dire need.