A "catastrophic deterioration" of the situation in Syria is threatening the delivery of aid to millions of people, the UN warned Thursday, urging immediate international action to shore up humanitarian access on the ground.
"The stakes are so incredibly high," said Jan Egeland, who heads an international humanitarian taskforce for the war-ravaged country.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the taskforce created in February by the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG), he warned that "the lifeline to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people... may be broken."
His comments came after an upsurge in violence in and around Syria's second city of Aleppo left nearly 200 dead in the past week, severely crippling a February ceasefire between the government and non-jihadist rebels and casting a shadow over UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva.
"The catastrophic deterioration in Aleppo over the last 24-48 hours, and also in parts of the Homs area was reported live to members of the ISSG today", Egeland said.
After a third round of indirect talks fizzled out Wednesday, UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura warned the ceasefire was now "barely alive" and said he could not set a date for the next round until it had been "revitalised".
De Mistura appealed to ISSG co-chairs Moscow and Washington to rescue the truce they brokered, and has called on all members of the group to use their influence to shore up humanitarian aid access, threatened by the surging violence.
Egeland voiced hope that there could soon be another ministerial-level ISSG meeting to help "put real pressure on the parties... who are actually playing with the lives of women and children."
Since February, there have been efforts to dramatically scale up humanitarian aid access to the some half million people living in besieged areas and the some four million others in so-called hard-to-reach parts of Syria.
Egeland hailed some advances, pointing out that during the first four months of the year, more than half of those living in besieged areas had been reached with aid at least once -- compared to three percent during the last four months of 2015.
Another bright spot, he said, is that the World Food Programme has now managed to make 15 successful airdrops over the eastern city Deir Ezzor, where some 200,000 people are besieged by the Islamic State group, including two on Thursday.
Long inaccessible, basically all of those in need of food assistance in the city have now been reached, Egeland said.
"So there has been progress," he said, but warned that "all of that may now be lost if the war continues as it is now."
Egeland said the UN was expecting to hear back from Damascus Thursday on its request for permits to access 35 locations, counting more than 905,000 inhabitants, during the month of May.
"May could still be our best month," he said, acknowledging though that "it could also be a catastrophic month. It all depends what happens in the next hours, days and weeks."