The UN Security Council needs to establish an early warning mechanism for humanitarian crises in Syria and to pressure the Syrian government to answer requests for access by aid organizations, diplomats said Wednesday at the United Nations.

After the Security Council was briefed on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the ambassadors of New Zealand and Spain said that the council must not allow people in besieged areas to get to the point of starvation, in response to images of emaciated people in the rebel-held town of Madaya that emerged this month.

Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand's ambassador to the UN, and Spanish Ambassador Roman Marchesi, whose countries have led efforts on the Syrian humanitarian track in the Security Council, stressed the need for sustained humanitarian access and a system to warn of worsening situations.

"(A) point we pushed very strongly was for some early warning mechanisms and clear procedures that are followed so that we can get visibility on these issues before they become acute," van Bohemen said.

Marchesi said they were calling on the Security Council to exert pressure on the Syrian government to answer requests for access by UN aid organizations within 90 days and provide backing to these agencies to do their jobs on the ground.

"Access is a key thing, and numbers on access are very bad," Marchesi said. "We need to avoid new Madayas."

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), told the council that the number of people living in besieged areas was "close to half a million," which is more than the UN's previous estimate of 400,000.

She noted that the Syrian government has failed to answer more than 60 per cent of requests for humanitarian access by WFP and its international partners.

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