Concerns are growing about how humanitarian aid is being distributed in the hardest hit areas of Syria. Most of the humanitarian relief sent by the United Nations ends up in the western slice of the country held by President Bashar al-Assad. In the first three months of this year, more than 85 percent of food aid and more than 70 percent of medicines went to government-held areas. Very little of the aid is reaching the large portions of Syria that are under the control of the opposition. This is a significant difference from the roughly 50-50 split reported a year ago.
The United Nations claims that the stark inequity is due to intensified conflict on the ground. Getting food and medicines to the two million Syrians deep inside the country means crossing front lines and checkpoints manned by numerous armed opposition groups. A half-dozen rebel groups have agreed to let United Nations aid convoys come through their areas, but not the extremist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda, which now control several key areas and roads that would be needed to distribute aid to more Syrians.
Western and Arab donors are already leaning on United Nations agencies to rectify the situation. They want more aid diverted to zones under the control of Mr. Assad’s opponents. Senior United Nations officials say trucking in aid from Turkey without the government’s consent would risk expulsion from the country. That would mean that the four million people who live in government-held areas would lose the meager amount of relief that they are currently receiving.
According to John Ging, who manages field operations worldwide for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the government has said that the relief agencies would be kicked out of government-held parts of the country if they crossed borders without the state’s consent. Mr. Ging said, “The calculation of what to do in the face of such threats and obstruction is very complex; history will judge as to whether we got it right or wrong. In the meantime, we will never accept being blocked from saving lives and have appealed to the Security Council for help.” There has been an ongoing debate in the United Nations about whether the law allows the agencies to enter Syrian territory without the state’s permission.