Briefing to the Security Council on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria by Mr. John Ging, Director of Operations and Advocacy, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
New York, 28 August 2018
Madam President, thank you.
Last month, the Emergency Relief Coordinator informed the Council of the dramatic increase in the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Aleppo and Idlib governorates since the beginning of this year. Recent weeks have seen a further serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the north-west, with intense aerial bombardment and shelling reported in parts of Idlib, Aleppo, Hama and Latakia governorates resulting in the death and injury of civilians, and damage and destruction of civilian infrastructure including schools and hospitals, placing even more strain on humanitarian responders and vulnerable host communities.
On 10 August, airstrikes on the town of Urem Al-Kubra in western Aleppo were reported to have killed 41 civilians, and wounded more than 70. On the same day, bombs were dropped on Alteh and Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib, killing 12 civilians and wounding dozens of others. On 12 August, 67 people were reportedly killed and 37 were injured – including many women and children – when a weapons depot in a residential building exploded near Sarmada, in rural Idlib.
Over the same period, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported that three health facilities it has been supporting were attacked, rendering two of these facilities out of service. Separately, an unconfirmed report was received of a projectile striking the grounds of a hospital in al-Ma’arra which had been deconflicted according to agreed procedures. In that incident, no casualties or damage to the hospital were reported. School activities were also suspended in several areas due to hostilities.
Humanitarian organizations are responding to needs across the north-west, drawing on cross-border assistance deliveries which continue to provide the critical lifeline for hundreds of thousands of civilians who cannot be reached through other means. Some 680,000 people received food delivered from Turkey during the month of July alone, and 254,000 people received health assistance, again, during the same period.
Alongside ongoing response and prepositioning of aid, humanitarian partners are finalizing a comprehensive Readiness Plan for people in areas of the north-west being reached by cross-border humanitarian organizations. This Plan is intended to guide a flexible response over a six-month period, complementing assistance mobilized from inside Syria. With an estimated 2.1 million people already in need in areas under nonstate armed group control covered by the Readiness Plan, with humanitarian workers likely to be among the displaced and with many organizations facing increasing funding shortfalls, the efforts of this Council to avoid any further escalation of violence and an ensuing humanitarian catastrophe are critical.
Turning to the situation in the south-west, the Government of Syria has now regained control over the vast majority of Dara’a, Qunaitra and As-Sweida governorates. Largescale return of internally displaced people has already taken place, and fewer than 60,000 people are now estimated to remain displaced across the three governorates.
However, massive levels of humanitarian need persist and the United Nations continues to provide aid in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other local organizations. Food assistance has now been provided for more than 390,000 people, as have water and sanitation, education and shelter assistance, as well as protection services.
Two ad hoc inter-agency convoys delivered hygiene kits, nutrition supplies and sanitary and household items for a total of 40,000 people in Dara’a Al-Balad and Bura al-Sham on 9 and 16 August respectively.
As efforts to scale up protection and basic services continue, and more detailed needs assessments are also underway, sustained and expanded humanitarian access across the south-west is critical.
The humanitarian situation remains complex and challenging in other parts of the country. At Rukban, on the Syria-Jordan border, the movement of several hundred families out of the camp due to deteriorating living conditions means that the current population is estimated to be approximately 45,000, of whom the vast majority are women and children. The provision of humanitarian assistance in the camp is increasingly urgent, with minimal aid delivered since January. Discussions on a humanitarian convoy to the area continue.
Close to 150,000 people are now estimated to have returned to Raqqa city. Unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices continue to pose a life-threatening risk to returnees and humanitarian personnel and, alongside insecurity and resource shortfalls, to hinder the scaling up of assistance.
In Deir-ez-Zor, ongoing fighting in the east of the governorate has continued to impact civilians, with reports that more than 20,000 people were displaced to makeshift camps between July and the beginning of this month. Many sites hosting new arrivals are not accessible to humanitarian organizations present in the area, and most displaced people are reported to be prevented from leaving the sites, although some have been able to move to other areas to receive medical treatment.
The number of people who remain displaced from eastern Ghouta in sites in rural Damascus is reported to have reduced to just below 7,500. The United Nations did not receive authorization to access these sites between mid-June and mid-August. However, the good news is visits to some locations were possible last week. Returns to eastern Ghouta are reported to have continued, although access to the area remains limited, delaying our efforts to scale up assistance and provide much needed services in the area, including for returnees.
World Humanitarian Day was held on 19 August, to pay tribute to aid workers and rally support for people affected by crises around the world. Syria remains among the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarian workers and healthcare providers.
Many have been directly targeted in the course of their work or forced to flee their homes. Hundreds have lost their lives. We continue to remind all parties to the fighting in Syria of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect and respect humanitarian relief personnel.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator is in Damascus today to engage with the Government of Syria on how best to further scale up the collective humanitarian response across Syria and how to ensure that those in greatest need are assisted and protected. His visit coincides with a visit of the High Commissioner for Refugees.
The Council’s engagement is also critical, to ensure de-escalation in Idlib and surrounding areas, to ensure safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access, and to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of people are already experiencing dire humanitarian conditions in overcrowded sites in which basic services have been stretched to breaking point for months.
Humanitarian organizations are doing what they can with the resources available to them to sustain the current response and prepare for a possible further deterioration, thanks in large part to cross-border assistance and the generosity of our financial donors. But a worst-case scenario in Idlib will overwhelm capacities and has the potential to create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen through this crisis.
We call on the members of the Council to do all they can to ensure that we avoid this. In the words of Kofi Annan, “We have the means and the capacity to deal with our problems, if only we can find the political will.” Thank you, Madam President.