Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aid Challenge in Syria Mounts for U.N. Official

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aid Challenge in Syria Mounts for U.N. Official

Article excerpt

UNITED NATIONS -- Valerie Amos, the top U.N. official responsible for easing the Syria conflict's humanitarian crisis, has made five visits to the country since early 2012 and has developed a cordial working relationship with Syrian relief officials.

At the same time, however, Ms. Amos has won only limited rights for aid groups to work in Syria, where hundreds of thousands of civilians in areas under insurgent control are unable to receive food, medicine and other supplies.

Ms. Amos, the undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and the emergency relief coordinator, is facing a conundrum as the 33- month-old conflict enters its second winter. Even as she has called loudly for access to areas in need, the humanitarian situation has worsened, her boss, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said Monday. If she pushes the Syrian government too hard, her working relationship could falter and the relief effort could backfire.

Ms. Amos has come under pressure to be tougher with Syrian authorities, who rights advocates say are increasingly using the denial of access to aid as a weapon. Groups such as Human Rights Watch, while professing admiration for Ms. Amos, say she has been too patient with the government of Syria's President Bashar Assad, who they contend has taken advantage as part of his survival strategy.

Defenders of Ms. Amos call her a pragmatist who has made progress without alienating either Assad's government, which she needs as her host-country partner, or its most important foreign ally, Russia.

Ms. Amos, 59, a former British Cabinet minister and House of Lords member who took the U.N. job about a year before the Syria conflict began, has found that Syria is now occupying much of her time. It has compounded what already was an enormous responsibility that includes managing disaster relief for the Philippines after the typhoon there, as well as a range of crises in Africa and frequent fundraising appeals.

On Monday in Geneva, she announced a donor fundraising goal of $13 billion for 2014, the most ever requested, half of it just for Syria.

Seeking other solutions, Ms. Amos has organized what she called an informal 22-nation "high-level group on Syria," including all five permanent Security Council members as well as regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, to find ways they can help despite their disagreements. …

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