On behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, UN OCHA Officer-in-Charge, Director of Operations and Advocacy, John Ging: Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria
New York, 27 June 2018
Mr. President, distinguished Council members,
Today I will provide you an update on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Mark Lowcock.
I would like to start with the alarming developments in southern Syria, where violence has escalated sharply last week with heavy artillery and aerial shelling. To date, an estimated 45,000-50,000 people have been displaced due to the fighting – most from eastern Dara’a Governorate to areas near the Jordanian border. A number of villages, either impacted or fearful of proximity to the fighting have been almost abandoned. According to the World Food Programme, quote, “the number of displaced people could nearly double if violence [continues] to escalate” – unquote. Dozens of civilians have reportedly been killed, including children and many more have been injured.
Attacks have also hit civilian infrastructure causing widespread damage, including an airstrike yesterday that rendered a MSF-supported hospital in Al-Hirak city inoperable. According to MSF, this hospital supported 90,000 people and provided more than 15,700 emergency room consultations in the past year alone. Another hospital in Eastern Ghariyeh had to suspend operations due to insecurity, and in Eastern Maliha, the local health centre and the local council building were also both rendered inoperable. This morning, media reports announced that airstrikes struck yet another health facility – this time in the town of Jizeh, east of Dara’a city. In addition, the Naseeb hospital declared the suspension of its services and the Dara’a Education Directorate announced the adjournment of all classes and examinations. Some 100,000 people in Dara’a city and surrounding villages have been impacted by a complete electricity blackout which occurred yesterday when Government forces launched an assault on the divided southern city.
Despite the hostilities, the United Nations and its partners continue to provide food, health, nutrition, education and core relief items to more than 400,000 people in need in southern Syria from across the border in Jordan. Humanitarian partners supporting cross-border operations have been actively planning for such an escalation since the first quarter of this year and supplies are prepositioned in Dara’a and Quneitra Governorates. Any further escalation will however significantly increase the number of displacements and jeopardize the UN’s capacity to conduct further operations. Today, for example, the UN cross-border convoy had to be postponed due to the bombardments which took place within kilometres of the Jordanian border. I recall in this regard the Secretary-General’s statement of last week, underscoring – quote – “the fragile situation of civilians in southern Syria” and “calling for an immediate end to the current military escalation” – unquote. I also call on all stakeholders to ensure that cross-border humanitarian deliveries continue in a sustained, safe and unimpeded manner to reach all those in need, including the newly displaced people.
In north-western Syria, particularly in Idlib, the humanitarian situation is increasingly dire. This is linked to massive new displacements since late last year. More than half a million people were displaced to and within Idlib these past six months, whether from eastern Ghouta, northern rural Homs, Yarmouk or other parts of Idlib itself. There is also growing concern around military escalation, with 60 people reportedly killed by airstrikes between 7 and 10 June alone, and armed clashes in the vicinity of the last two besieged communities in Syria, namely Fu’ah and Kefraya. Moreover, improvised explosives have been detonating regularly throughout the area, with over 20 incidents reported in May and two recent incidents in Idlib city on 21 June, killing eight people and wounding another 40.
In addition, a number of abductions for ransom of medical and health professionals was reported in June, which led local authorities to suspend non-emergency activities for several days.
In Raqqa city, UNDSS [United Nations Department of Safety and Security] and UNMAS [United Nations Mine Action Service] conducted an assessment mission on 13 and 14 June. While the United Nations remains concerned that contamination of explosive hazards makes the city unsafe for returns, an estimated 138,000 people have already returned to Raqqa city since ISIL’s withdrawal in October 2017. Most returnees have settled in areas with comparatively less infrastructure damage and less explosive hazard contamination. There has been a reduction in the average number of blast-related casualties reported by health facilities from over 170 per month in November and December 2017 to an estimated 43 in April – that is the latest data we currently have. Access to basic services within Ar-Raqqa city continues to gradually improve with hospitals reopening and electricity re-established in rural areas to the north of the city as well as other infrastructure sites.
The rehabilitation of the water network within Ar-Raqqa city continues at too slow a pace. Only 50 per cent of the city is reportedly receiving water through the network and often in insufficient quantity. In neighbourhoods that do have access to the water network, supply is often intermittent with concerns over the poor water quality contributing to health risks. The United Nations and their implementing partners continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those in Raqqa city and throughout Raqqa Governorate, reaching nearly 300,000 people every month.
Further to the west, 136,000 individuals are estimated to remain in Afrin district including over 40,000 in Afrin city. Another 134,000 individuals from Afrin district remain displaced in the Tall Refaat sub-district, Nabul and Zahraa towns and surrounding communities. Some limited return movements to Afrin district took place in May, when between 3,000 to 5,000 individuals reportedly returned to Afrin district.
The humanitarian access situation in Afrin district continues to improve. While Turkey and Turkish authorities provide the majority of the response in these areas, the UN – through its cross-border humanitarian partners – is also contributing to life-saving services and activities in the district. Based on a recent multi-sectoral rapid assessment conducted by humanitarian partners in May, needs are considered to remain high, with most health facilities in rural areas closed, many service providers having fled the area and a large proportion of schools, markets and bakeries not yet functional, due, again, to explosive remnants of war and the continued absence of staff, workers and tradespeople.
In Tall Refaat and surrounding areas, the United Nations continues to provide humanitarian assistance to the displaced population mainly from its warehouses in Aleppo. However, additional assistance and services are required, particularly for people in rural areas and the IDP sites.
In eastern Ghouta, close to 16,000 people are reported to have moved back as of early June. Estimates indicate that there are currently 125,000 people living inside the enclave. The UN has largely been unable to access eastern Ghouta since the changed control in March. A visit to Saqba and Kafr Batna took place on 14 May, but a full assessment of the needs is yet to be authorized by the Government of Syria. Assistance is being provided through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent [SARC] and other local partners.
A SARC convoy delivered UN assistance including wheat flour for 60,000 people and food for 45,000 people in Duma on 10 June. UN personnel were not permitted to accompany the convoy and conduct a needs assessment, despite the convoy being implemented under the agreed bimonthly inter-agency convoy plan. Moreover, two inter-agency convoys were deployed in May, namely to the hard-to-reach locations of Talbiseh in northern rural Homs and to Tlul Elhomor in southern Hama. As was the case for the convoy to Duma, UN personnel were not permitted to participate in these convoys. SARC delivered UN multi-sectoral assistance for 92,000 people in Talbiseh as well as food assistance for 12,000 in nearby Al-Jabrya village. Yesterday, multi-sectoral assistance was delivered to 107,000 people in Ar-Rastan in northern rural Homs. Initially, UN personnel were not authorized to accompany this convoy. However, following intense negotiations – including with the help of the Russian Federation – the Syrian authorities amended their decision to allow UN presence as well as the delivery of all medical and health items.
In Syria, the World Health Organization has documented reports of nearly 700 attacks on health facilities since the start of 2014, with 112 confirmed attacks already this year. We are now at par with the number of attacks registered all of last year. More than 16 per month. One attack every other day – on average. Syria now accounts for nearly 70 per cent of all reported attacks on health care facilities documented by the World Health Organization worldwide. It is - and I quote WHO - “the deadliest place in the world for health workers” - end of quote.
Let me highlight our efforts to prevent such attacks from occurring. Since March this year, the UN has de-conflicted over 500 humanitarian premises and sites with the Russian Federation, the US-led Coalition against ISIL and with Turkey. These sites have been de-conflicted in an effort to prevent them from being targeted – by mistake or incidentally. Yet, four of these de-conflicted sites – all of them health facilities – were hit in eastern Ghouta and northern rural Homs on 20 March, 6 April and 29 April. That’s four too many. We must all ensure that none of our deconflicted sites are hit or damaged unlawfully.
Late last year, this Council requested the Secretary-General to conduct a written review of the UN humanitarian cross-border operations. A report was issued last week. I will not go through the all the details and findings of the report but I will make a few points on the impact of our cross-border operations on people in need in Syria.
As you know, nearly five million people are in need in areas that are more accessible via cross-border operations than from within Syria. 2.67 million of them are in areas solely accessible via cross-border operations. These are people without access to assistance from within Syria. Between July 2014 and April this year, a net total of 3.7 million people received food assistance, many on a monthly basis; 4.7 million people received sanitation and hygiene assistance; education supplies were delivered for 946,000 people; and nutrition assistance was provided for 611,000 people.
Some 21.1 million medical treatments and procedures were conducted and 82 hospitals and 70 mobile clinics are operational and supported by medical supplies provided by the UN and its humanitarian partners through cross-border operations.
2018 has seen a rapid evolution of the conflict, with shifts in control of territory and mass movements of people, with nearly an additional million people displaced this year alone. While geographical space for cross-border operations has shrunk as areas in the south-east of Idlib have transitioned to the control of the Government of Syria, the size of the population being supported by United Nations cross-border operations has actually increased and the needs of people have become ever more acute. For example, in 2014 when Security Council resolution 2165 was adopted, Idlib’s population was estimated at 1.9 million. Today it stands at 2.5 million – half of them displaced people.
Security Council Resolution 2165 was adopted out of a dire humanitarian need and imperative, with millions of people in need of assistance who were inaccessible from within Syria. As long as people remain inaccessible from within Syria, which remains the case today, cross-border humanitarian deliveries continue to be the indispensable lifeline for those millions of Syrians dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive.
Thank you, Mr. President.
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.