The briefing in the Security Council yesterday by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Assistant Secretary-General Kang was clear: the humanitarian situation in Syria is dire, and it is getting worse.
Thirteen and a half million people in Syria currently are in need of humanitarian assistance, more than half of the pre-war population. That is 1.2 million more people than required humanitarian assistance last year. The scale of this crisis makes it all the more critical that the mechanism to deliver humanitarian aid across conflict lines and through border crossings, established by UN resolution 2165, work as it is supposed to – allowing life-saving assistance to reach those in the greatest need.
This mechanism, which includes monitoring and reporting, has facilitated the delivery of humanitarian assistance more effectively and efficiently, but it continues to face significant obstacles that prevent critical assistance from reaching people who desperately need it. As yesterday’s briefings underscored, humanitarian access to millions of people inside Syria is still either restricted or denied. According to OCHA, from September 1 to November 30, the UN and its partners only accessed one-third of hard-to-reach locations. An estimated four and a half million people live in those hard-to-reach locations – meaning more than three million people could not be reached.
We know this is an enduring and serious problem, yet until now the Council and the international community have been unable to fix it. Notwithstanding our collective efforts through the Vienna process to secure a long overdue political settlement, in accordance with the Geneva Communiqué, according to UN there has been no improvement in access to hard-to-reach and besieged areas; in many places the access situation is even worse. The situation is catastrophic for the 400,000 Syrians living in besieged areas; OCHA reports that only one in every 100 people living in a besieged area – 1 in 100 – has received food aid, and an even smaller proportion has received health assistance.
As we all know, the dire humanitarian situation has not only caused immeasurable suffering for Syrian men, women, and children – and led to countless deaths, so many of them preventable – but this humanitarian catastrophic situation also continues to drive displacement of Syrians inside the country, often for the second or third time, and continues to lead one wave after another of Syrians to flee their country, helping fuel the largest refugee crisis in a generation.
The resolution adopted by the Council today underscores the urgent need for assistance across conflict lines, and for Syrian authorities to “expeditiously respond to all requests for cross-line deliveries” by the UN. People’s lives depend on these requests being approved, yet more than half of requests made in 2015 for cross-line deliveries remain pending. Often the Syrian government just ignores the UN requests, they don’t even bother to respond. Acute malnourishment and disease is prevalent, and yet nothing seems to create a sense of urgency in dealing with these requests by the UN on the part of the Syrian government. The International Syria Support Group, ISSG, OCHA, and members of this Council have repeatedly called on the Syrian authorities to approve these requests. Even when cross-line delivery requests are approved, they are too often prevented from being acted upon; half of the approved requests have subsequently been held up by the Syrian security forces. This record – which is worse than 2014 – is unacceptable and this Council, which passes these resolutions, should not accept the denial of requests and a pattern of a failure to even respond to requests.
Humanitarian access to ISIL-held territory – where about half of the besieged and hard-to-reach population lives – is also extremely limited, exacerbating the suffering that the terrorist group inflicts on the Syrian people.
As this resolution reiterates, medical assistance is crucial. As such, the resolution recalls the obligations of all parties under international humanitarian law, including the need to cease all the attacks against civilians, including medical facilities and personnel. According to Physicians for Human Rights, medical facilities have been attacked 112 times in 2015 – more than during any other year in this conflict. Nearly two-thirds of hospitals in Syria have been destroyed or are only partly functional as a result of attacks. The lack of health workers, facilities, and medical supplies forces Syrians to seek life-saving assistance elsewhere.
According to credible reports, Russian airstrikes have hit major supply routes, interrupting humanitarian programs, killing civilians – including first responders – and hitting schools and markets.
There are of course many other profound challenges in Syria, including terrorism, which we are working to address through various initiatives that themselves are critically urgent. Yet, it is incumbent on the Council to ensure that resolutions aimed at addressing humanitarian challenges remain focused on responsibly addressing those concerns.
We all understand that the most effective way to resolving Syria’s crisis, including its dire humanitarian situation, is through a political solution. The adoption last week of resolution 2254 provides a genuine opportunity to reach a nationwide ceasefire and foster a political process that could lead to a political transition in Syria, based on the Geneva Communiqué. As a Council, we must do all within our power to seize this opportunity. At the same time, until that day comes, we must look out for the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people who are in desperate need of our help.
Source: U.S Department of State
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