In 2014, the UN Security Council authorized a UN-led cross-border humanitarian response to reach millions of vulnerable and out-of-reach Syriansthrough Resolution 2565. Since then, the number of people in urgent need of and fully reliant on external assistance has increased by more than a third as per recent reports from OCHA. The cross-border response has provided a vital lifeline to Syrians in non-government held areas, including millions living in Northwest Syria (NWS)--one million of whom are children. It is critical that this July the UN Security Council reauthorizes this essential humanitarian mechanism for a minimum of 12 months.
NWS is most reliant on cross-border operations to access affected populations. More than 4.1 million people in NWS are now in need of humanitarian assistance, up from 3.4 million last year. These are the people most at risk of experiencing even deeper vulnerability, including starvation, with no capacity to recover from conflict-induced trauma and economic fallout.
The economical deterioration and increased living costs in NWS means that almost 90% of the population is already financially constrained, coupling this with a decrease in aid, will result in catastrophic outcomes. The number of suicide cases in already on the rise and one of the main causes of that is being unable to provide basic living needs.
A reauthorization of cross-border operations for a duration of 12 months is essential for NWS.
This duration would allow for timely, predictable delivery of humanitarian assistance and services, including early recovery programmes, essential to meeting the humanitarian needs of affected populations in a safe and dignified manner. Any duration shorter than 12 months will create serious and unnecessary life-threatening risks for Syrians in NWS right at the onset of the freezing temperatures of winter.
Across NWS, 2.8 million people are internally displaced and 1.7 million live in camps or informal settlements, cut off from basic services and left reliant on humanitarian assistance.
Ongoing conflict, and resource and access constraints continue to contribute to the ongoing need for adequate shelter, infrastructure, protection, and basic services including water, sanitation, and healthcare. Women and children constrained to live in so-called ‘widow camps’ are disproportionately affected – 31% of those recently surveyed by one NGO reported lacking even basic shelter. Over half of those living in camps across Syria are under the age of 18. The constraints, other factors compounding vulnerability and the lack of alternatives to reach these populations in need mean that people in NWS iteratively require life-saving assistance, now more than ever.
The current cross-border operation reaches nearly 60% of the 4.1 million people in need of humanitarian assistance as reported by OCHA. In 2021, an average of 800 trucks crossed into NWS each month. 80% percent of all food assistance in NWS is delivered through the UN to NGOs working in NWS using this mechanism. This, coupled with UN funding of partner programs, allowed humanitarian actors to reach more than 2.4 million people per month, including with the provision of a primary—and in some cases exclusive—food source for 1.8 million people, as well as nutrition assistance for 85,000 people, education for 78,000 children, and critical medical items and supplies to help people survive the cold winter months.
Should the UN’s cross-border operation end in July, the subsequent disruption and reduction in aid flows to the northwest will prove devastating for those already at great risk and will leave those reliant on this life-saving aid lacking food, drinking water, shelter, health services, protection, and education. Camp settings in Idleb are heavily dependent on the supplies and support made possible by the UN cross-border mechanism, putting more that 2 million people at risk. Non-renewal of the resolution would also mean the immediate end of the Syria Crossborder Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) – a main source of funding for many NGOs working to meet basic needs in NWS, especially local organizations. In 2021, the SCHF supported 153 humanitarian projects, providing $151.2M in funding. This potential loss of funding in the case of non-renewal would come at a critical time when there are already significant concerns about broader funding cuts for the response. Currently, the Syria Humanitarian Response Fund is only 22.9% funded. Should cross-border authorization for the UN cease, including for critical UN-managed funding mechanisms, humanitarian needs are likely to dramatically increase while people will no longer have access to many of the services now available.
UN agencies have played a vital role in procuring, pre-positioning, and transporting a large volume of core relief items across several sector in NWS. In the case of food assistance and shelter, the UN procures an overwhelming proportion of the total assistance delivered to people in the area. NGOs rely heavily on the UN for its unique mandate to procure vaccines and certain pharmaceuticals, including COVID-19 and early childhood vaccines, that NGOs are unable to procure bilaterally or independently. Should The UN stop the provision of vaccines and essential medicine, there is bound to be an increase in communicable and noncommunicable diseases, most likely leading to epidemics. Furthermore, the UN plays is critical role in facilitating the response through coordination and access negotiation on behalf of NGOs.
The underlying reason for the UN Security Council resolution authorizing cross-border operations into Syria in 2014 not only remains valid today but has become even more crucial as humanitarian needs in NWS continue to escalate and no comparable, viable alternative to aid delivery currently exists.
There is currently no viable alternative in place to fully replace the cross-border operations for NWS. While progress has been made on cross-line access to the northwest, these operations are currently unable to deliver the scale or frequency of assistance required, particularly to sustain any early recovery programs, and it has not proven possible to scale cross-line to a level comparable to the cross-border modality under current conditions.
As humanitarian needs dramatically increase, what is needed is more access, not less. To ensure life-saving aid continues to reach millions, we hereby call on the UN Security Council to prioritize the humanitarian imperative and reauthorize the provisions of the cross-border resolution for a minimum of 12 months and at a scale that is in line with the needs. Anything less would signal to Syrians that the Council is willing to accept unnecessary suffering and loss of life.