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‘You cannot let more people die on your watch’ in Syria, deputy UN relief chief tells Security Council

UNICEF Representative in Syria Hanaa Singer (center) speaks with children around a fire near the last checkpoint before Madaya town on 14 January 2016. Photo Credit: UNICEF/UN07487/Omar


15 January 2016 – With hundreds of thousands of Syrians living in a “nightmarish reality dictated by a conflict that respects few rules and obeys no laws,” the United Nations deputy humanitarian chief told the members of the UN Security Council today that they cannot let more people “die on their watch.”

“Food, water and medicine are not bargaining chips or favours that the parties to a conflict can grant or deny at will; they are basic necessities that lie at the very essence of survival and the right to life, which this Council and its members have a responsibility to protect,” Ms. Kyung-Wha Kang, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the 15-member body during a briefing.

She recalled that for more than four years, the humanitarian community has sounded the alarm about the impact of Syria’s conflict on ordinary men, women and children.

“We have requested, called for, insisted and demanded that the conflict be brought to an end, that civilians be protected from the relentless violence and access be granted for life-saving humanitarian assistance,” Ms. Kang declared, highlighting that requests have mostly gone unanswered.

In recent days, the world’s conscience has been shocked by harrowing images of malnutrition and hunger in the Syrian town of Madaya, where siege and starvation, which top UN officials say is being used as a “weapon of war,” is having devastating consequences for civilians.

Raising the alarm, Ms. Kang said the situation there is not unique. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), around 400,000 people throughout Syria are trapped in areas besieged by the various parties to the conflict. This includes towns and villages besieged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or Da’esh), by Government and allied forces, and by non-state armed groups and the Al Nusra Front.

“The United Nations and its partners have worked tirelessly for over four years to bring life-saving assistance to people in need across Syria,” she stressed to the Council.

This week, on 11 and 14 January, inter-agency convoys comprised of 130 trucks reached the towns of Madaya, Foah and Kafraya with urgent assistance for over 60,000 people, including food and nutritional support, medicines and medical equipment, and non-food items. Separately, the third part of a series of convoys brought assistance to over 3 7,000 people in Al Waer in Homs Governorate. Further assistance is scheduled to reach the areas later this week.

While these developments are positive and welcome, Ms. Kang said they are a trickle. In 2015, the UN was able to reach less than three per cent of besieged areas; in 2014, the figure was less than five per cent.

Meanwhile, throughout the years of the conflict, 80 requests for inter-agency cross line convoys to besieged and hard-to reach areas, out of a total of 113, went unanswered. This week, the UN submitted requests for further inter-agency convoys to bring life-saving assistance across the country.

“These requests and other outstanding requests must be approved as a matter of urgency and without delay,” she stated. “Similarly, the slow and bureaucratic procedures that have been imposed on humanitarian operations in Syria must be simplified and streamlined.”

She recalled that there is no alternative to a political, negotiated solution to this desperate conflict, and urged the Security Council and all relevant stakeholders, in particular those that support the warring parties, to put their differences aside and place Syria on a firm path to peace.

Ms. Kang’s call on the Council comes as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today confirmed cases of severe malnutrition among children in Madaya, where “emotionally distressed and mentally drained” doctors are working around the clock to save lives with very limited resources and local relief workers have reported 32 people have starved to death in the past month.

“UNICEF is particularly saddened and shocked to have witnessed the death of Ali, a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy who passed away in the town’s clinic in front of our eyes,” said Hanaa Singer, the agency’s Representative in Syria, in a statement, which also noted that at the make-shift hospital UNICEF visited, there were only two doctors and two health professionals working under overwhelming conditions.

The UNICEF team and staff of the World Health Organization (WHO) were able to screen 25 children under five for malnutrition using the Mid-Upper Arm Circumference measurement. Twenty-two of the children showed signs of moderate to severe malnutrition. All of these children are now receiving treatment at the health facility using specialized medical and nutrition supplies that the UN and ICRC delivered on Monday.

Acknowledging that the mission’s findings are by no means a representative sample and the UN cannot yet draw conclusions from it about the overall nutrition situation, Ms Singer said it nevertheless provides a “real time reflection” of the situation on the ground in Madaya. The UN teams together with SARC plan to continue the assessment on Sunday for further follow up.

“While we express our shock over the situation in Madaya, let us not forget that across Syria, there are 14 other ‘Madayas,’” said Ms. Singer, stressing that these are locations where different parties to the conflict have been using siege as a tactic of war, depriving children and innocent civilians from accessing lifesaving supplies and services.

UN chief condemns ‘heinous terrorist attacks’ in Burkina Faso’s capital

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. UN Photo/Amanda Voisard (file)

16 January 2016 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today condemned the “heinous terrorist attacks” carried out yesterday in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, which resulted in more than 20 deaths and many other people wounded.

“The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and the people and Government of Burkina Faso, and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured,” Mr. Ban said in a statement issued by his Spokesperson.

The UN chief also reiterated the full support of the United Nations to the authorities of Burkina Faso and said he stands in solidarity with the country and the region in its fight against terrorism.

“He calls on the authorities to do their utmost to bring those responsible for these attacks to justice promptly,” the statement concluded.

West Africa: UN Security Council welcomes positive developments, but concerned about political tensions

Voting takes place in the first round of the presidential election in Guinea on 11 October 2015. Photo: UNDP Guinea

16 January 2016 – Welcoming positive political developments in West Africa, in particular the holding of peaceful elections in Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Côte-d’Ivoire, members of the UN Security Council stressed the importance of the upcoming elections in Niger, Benin, Cabo Verde, Ghana and The Gambia to be “free, fair, peaceful, inclusive and credible.”

In a statement issued following a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and Head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, members of the 15-member body expressed their concern that political tension may continue to erode governance in Guinea-Bissau and jeopardize achievements in the country since the 2014 elections.

“They called upon national leaders of Guinea-Bissau to work to sustain stability through substantive political dialogue in order to prevent escalation of tensions or relapse into conflict,” the statement indicated. “They also encouraged them to foster a climate conducive to national reconciliation, as well as democratic, social and economic reconstruction.”

Reiterating their strong condemnation of the recurrent terrorist attacks carried out in the region, in particular in Mali and the Sahel, as well as in the Lake Chad Basin region—notably by Boko Haram—members of the Security Council stressed the need to combat all forms of terrorism. In this regard, they expressed particular concern about the protection of civilians, the main targets of these attacks.

“They welcomed, in this regard, the regional and international efforts to mitigate the security, humanitarian and development consequences of these attacks,” the statement said. “They reaffirmed that Member States must ensure that any measures taken to counter terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law, and international humanitarian law.”

The Security Council also commended the efforts of the African Union and ECOWAS, as well as of Member States of the Sahel, to strengthen border security and regional cooperation, and said they remain committed to working closely with them and others to address cross-border security threats and prevent the spread of violent extremism and terrorism.

In addition, they expressed their concern about the trafficking of drugs and other illicit goods, as well as the smuggling of migrants and human trafficking, stressing the need to strengthen the fight against criminal activities in the sub-region.

Welcoming the success achieved in the fight against Ebola and reiterating their concerns about the humanitarian, social and economic consequences of this disease, the Security Council expressed its support and solidarity to affected countries and called for the strengthening of the early warning mechanisms and resilience of national health systems.

They also called upon the international community to sustain support to the affected countries and encouraged all the bilateral and multilateral partners to fulfill the commitments made during the Ebola recovery conferences held in Brussels, Washington and New York.

Source: United Nations


Karl William


United Nations Section

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Robert Williams

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