Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Address to the Pledging Conference on Syria [EN/AR]

from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 30 Jan 2013

I join the Secretary-General in thanking the Emir of Kuwait for hosting this important conference and for announcing their generous contribution of US$300 million. In my presentation I will address the humanitarian needs of the people inside Syria. Mr. Antonio Guterres will speak about the needs of Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries that are shouldering a heavy burden in hosting over 700,000 refugees. This gathering today is an important opportunity for the international community to share their burden and to give essential life-saving support to refugees and also to show support to the people of Syria.

I was in Syria three days ago. It was my fourth visit in the last year and it is clear that the security situation is getting worse. The sound of shelling in Damascus is constant. In March last year I saw for myself the total destruction which had taken place in the Baba Amr area of Homs and that is a pattern which has been repeated in many towns and cities in Syria - you saw the footage yourself in the film. The ongoing violence has shattered the lives of millions and made people fear for their lives. The collapse of the economy, rising food prices, rising unemployment and the destruction of essential infrastructure has put considerable strain on the social sector and is having an impact on the whole country. Farming is in crisis and people are now destitute and desperate.

Half of Syria’s public hospitals have been damaged; one third are out of service. Many doctors have left the country. Forty per cent of ambulances have been damaged and there are shortages of life-saving medicines like insulin, anaesthetics, serums and intravenous fluids. Even pain killers are not available. Getting medical help is a daily challenge.

Up to three million people are having trouble getting food. Bakeries have been destroyed or cannot get fuel, so bread is in short supply. Cereal, fruit and vegetable production has dropped by half in some areas.

Twenty-five per cent of schools are no longer in use because they have been destroyed or have been turned into communal shelters. Thousands of children are unable to go to school.

The needs are huge. The UN estimates that four million people need urgent humanitarian assistance, including two million who have fled their homes and are now living without the most basic services: without clean water, sanitation facilities and electricity. But, these figures may be an under-estimate. According to the preliminary assessments by the Assistance Coordination Unit, the humanitarian arm of the Syrian National Coalition, there are an estimated 3.2 million people in need of assistance in opposition-controlled areas. The Government of Syria states that three million people have fled their homes.

The harsh winter conditions have made the situation worse, with people living under plastic sheets and leaky roofs, facing snow and sub-zero temperatures without winter clothes, blankets or fuel. Women and children are particularly vulnerable.

And the constant threat of violence has taken its toll, with millions of women and children traumatized and needing psychosocial support. I have heard some terrible stories from those who have witnessed and experienced the violence and brutality. Some of it is almost too impossible to conceive and repeat. Yet this is what people continue to live through, day by day.

And it is not just the Syrian people who are affected. Many of you will have seen the terrible pictures of the devastation in Yarmouk camp, which was home to some 150,000 Palestinian refugees. Out of 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, an estimated 400,000 now need humanitarian assistance. And with the conflict reaching the Damascus area, where 80 per cent of the refugees live, needs are becoming even more acute. Several Palestinian refugee camps have become ghost camps as residents flee with the arrival of gunmen and Government forces. The UN’s Relief and Works Agency is sheltering some 9,000 displaced people in its facilities across the country, including Syrians. They urgently need more resources. And the IOM continues its work with third-country nationals that are trapped in the country.

A large-scale aid operation is already under way inside Syria with the UN, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations reaching more people every month. And the ICRC and its affiliated organizations continue their important work. While access to opposition-controlled and disputed areas remains a challenge, assistance is being delivered in all affected governorates.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

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