New York, 7 September 2018
Last week during the monthly briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria I briefed on recent developments in Idleb, our current response, and also the planning preparedness underway should the situation escalate further. Today I will provide an additional update on the situation there and the humanitarian response.
As the Special Envoy has said, there are some 3 million people living in the Idleb de-escalation zone, which includes parts of Idleb, Aleppo, Lattakia, and Hama governorates. Of these people 2.1 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes 1.4 million people who are internally displaced. While our humanitarian response currently focuses on supporting 2.1 million people in need, we are concerned for the protection and safety of all civilians living in the area should there be hostilities intensified.
On 4 September, renewed air and ground-based strikes in western and southern rural Idleb, as well as northern rural Hama, led to civilian casualties and displacement. Heavy bombardment of the Jisr Ash-Shugur area of western rural Idleb led to some 13 civilian deaths, including at least four children, injuring another 20 other civilians. On 6 September a hospital near Keifr Zeita, in northern Hama, was reportedly hit by an airstrike, despite the fact that it had been deconflicted. We also continue to receive reports of improvised explosive devices and other attacks killing and maiming civilians in populated areas throughout Idleb, including humanitarian aid workers. At least three doctors have been killed in August alone.
As a result of the insecurity, schools in western Idleb and around Jisr Ash-Shugur and surrounding communities have been suspended. Key crossing points between government and opposition-controlled areas are also reportedly closed, some by the destruction of bridges by non-State armed opposition groups. In addition to restricting freedom of movement for the population, this has also contributed to rising food prices and shortages.
At the request of humanitarian organizations, the United Nations has provided de-confliction information for 125 humanitarian sites in Idleb to the military actors. This information was submitted to facilitate the parties to identify humanitarian facilities, warehouses, offices and sites where humanitarian assistance is being provided to people in need. In their military operations, all parties bear the obligation to take constant care to spare civilians, and civilian objects, including humanitarian workers and humanitarian facilities. Any deconflicted sites that are reported to have been targeted must be immediately investigated.
The United Nations and non-governmental organizations continue to implement a major humanitarian operation throughout Idleb, with an average of 2 million people reached every month with cross-border assistance from Turkey.
Beyond the provision of assistance, efforts are under way and ongoing to ensure that people in need can be supported in the event of an increase in hostilities. Our teams in Damascus and Gaziantep have together developed the readiness plan that sets out a coordinated, flexible response in the affected population for the coming period. Plans are in place to support up to 900,000 women, children and men that could be affected by conflict, including for up to a potential 700,000 people who may be displaced north within Idleb. We also estimate that some 100,000 people may cross into government-controlled areas. In addition, if the conflict spreads to the Tal Refaat area, we estimate that 100,000 people may seek to move towards other areas in Aleppo governorate or to north-east Syria.
Humanitarian aid is already being positioned inside Idleb, as well as in surrounding areas in Aleppo, Lattakia, and Hama. This includes ready-to-eat food rations sufficient for one week to cover as many as 850,000 people both through cross-border operations via Turkey and from inside Syria. Additionally, non-food items, shelter, WASH, and medical supplies are also being prepositioned. WHO has dispatched more than 25 tons of supplies to Aleppo over the past month alone.
The United Nations has released $20 million from the Turkey Humanitarian Fund. Some $10 million of this allocation is focused on ensuring shelter and non-food items will be available should an increase in violence force people to displace. While some donors, including the UK and Germany have recently provided additional resources, for which we are most grateful, the amount received falls woefully short of the $311 million that we estimate is required if there is an increase of violence resulting in large scale displacement. This is funding we do not have, as multiple crises, over the past period in eastern Ghouta, in Afrin, in southern Syria, and in Idleb earlier this year, have strained already limited pool of resources.
Civilians in the de-escalation zone have borne the impact of fighting throughout years of the Syrian conflict. This have made vulnerable populations displaced to the area from eastern Aleppo, from eastern Ghouta, from northern rural Homs and from southern Syria. Communities and humanitarian responders have been stretched to their limits to support those who arrive, often with nothing. The humanitarian impact on civilians of any increase in fighting will therefore be most severe. And the worst-case scenario in Idleb, where millions would flee fighting, will overwhelm all capacity to respond regardless of plans or funding made available. It has the potential to create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen through this crisis.
In conclusion, let me highlight five key asks to this Council, and through you to all parties to the conflict, and all those who have influence over them.
- Cease hostilities in the area and, at a minimum, ensure there is no escalation;
- Ensure the protection of civilians, and civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian and medical personnel and assets, in compliance with parties’ obligations under IHL.
- Respect and enable freedom of movement for people who wish to move in any direction. Additionally, civilians who chose to stay must be allowed to do so, and must remain protected.
- Allow and facilitate safe, rapid, unhindered, and sustained humanitarian access to people in need through the most direct routes, including to areas which have changed control.
- Increase funding for priority response and readiness activities, noting that the humanitarian response is already over stretched.
Thank you Madam President.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.