Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos Security Council briefing on Syria, New York, 25 October 2013 [EN/AR]
Thank you for the opportunity to update the Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
I would like to begin by thanking the Council for the adoption of its Presidential Statement on 2 October this year regarding the humanitarian situation in Syria. The Statement demonstrated a unity of purpose in the Council’s response to the humanitarian situation in Syria and was a clear recognition that the appalling suffering inflicted on ordinary women, children and men by this conflict is completely unacceptable.
I regret to report that, despite the Council’s grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation, and its call for urgent increased humanitarian action, fighting continues to intensify across the country and its impact on civilians continues to grow each day.
Ongoing assessments reveal a substantial increase in needs and in internal displacement.
As winter begins to fall across the country for a third year since this conflict began, millions live in makeshift shelters, exposed to the elements and unprotected from the cold. All Palestine refugee camps have been affected by the conflict, tens of thousands of Palestine refugees have had their homes damages or destroyed and more than 50 per cent have been displaced. Diseases, including those easily preventable by basic hygiene and vaccination, are spreading at an alarming rate. Just last week we received reports of polio cases in Deir-ez-Zor, which, if confirmed, will mark the first polio outbreak in Syria in 14 years. In Aleppo and other cities, leishmaniasis is rife, disfiguring and scarring children’s faces for the rest of their lives. There are also worrying reports of rapidly increasing malnutrition. People suffering from chronic illnesses, such as cancer and diabetes, lack access to treatment, and they also are dying. Silently.
On 2 October, this Council called on all parties to the Syrian conflict to immediately cease and desist from all violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights and to take all appropriate steps to protect civilians. Yet, three weeks later, we continue to receive reports of both Government and opposition military positions being established in populated areas and of the occupation of, and indiscriminate attacks against, civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, power plants and water points. On Wednesday, a gas pipeline was hit, shutting down power in Damascus and many other locations across the country. Since the war began, over 3,000 schools and a significant number of mosques have been damaged or destroyed. Most flour mills and bakeries are no longer operational. Medical facilities have been particularly hard hit: around 60 per cent of hospitals, 38 per cent of health centres, 90 per cent of ambulances and 70 per cent of pharmaceutical plants have been affected by the crisis. The deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel and transportation remains a daily reality.
Despite the intensification of the conflict, UN agencies and partners continue to work in extremely dangerous and difficult conditions across the country to reach millions of people with regular humanitarian assistance. WFP has scaled-up its operations and now aims to reach 4 million people each month, half of whom are in opposition-held or contested areas. UNICEF and partners have provided around 10 million people with access to safe water countrywide and since the beginning of the year, UNHCR and partners have provided core relief items, such as blankets and mattresses, to almost 2.4 million people, around 40 per cent of them in opposition-held or disputed areas. During this year approximately 2.7 million people have had medical consultations, treatments and interventions and 2 million reached with emergency health kits by WHO and health partners. Ahead of the new school year which began on 15 September, UNICEF distributed schoolbags and stationery to one million children in all 14 Governorates as part of its "Back to Learning" campaign.
In addition to our regular aid deliveries, we have managed to provide one-off assistance to nearly 2.3 million people in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 1.8 million in oppositionheld or contested areas, through UN inter-agency convoys since January. In mid-October, we delivered food, medical supplies, essential items and water and sanitation assistance for the first time in many months to people in the opposition-held areas of Terr Mallah and Al Gantho in Homs.
Yet, Mr. President, despite our best efforts, the humanitarian response in Syria remains severely insufficient compared to growing needs.
More than three months since my last briefing to the Council, we are still unable to provide assistance to an estimated 2.5 million people trapped in hard to reach and besieged areas despite our attempts to use the provisions in the Presidential Statement to do much more. Many of the 2.5 million have not been reached for almost a year. Opposition groups continue to besiege the towns of Nubul and Az-Zahraa in Rural Aleppo, while Government forces continue to besiege the towns of Eastern Ghouta, Al Hajar Al-Aswad and Moadamiyah in Rural Damascus and the Old City in Homs. Other locations, such as Yarmouk, Dera’a, Al Balad, Khan Sheikhum and many others, remain difficult to access due to ongoing fighting. Although over 3,000 people were evacuated from Moadamiyah on the 13th of October, more remain trapped and in need of urgent assistance. Despite my call on the 19th of October for an immediate pause in hostilities to allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access to evacuate the remaining civilians and deliver life-saving assistance, we have still been unable to reach the area.
In the Presidential Statement of the 2nd of October this Council urged the Syrian authorities to take immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations and lift bureaucratic impediments and other obstacles. We are engaging with the Government of Syria on these issues but have regrettably, as yet, not had any major breakthrough.
All humanitarian staff missions and convoys continue to require written approval. The processing of visas for UN and international NGO staff members is unpredictable: over 100 visas (62 for UN staff and 39 for INGOs) remain pending; many receive single entry visas; and staff are often issued visas for a shorter duration than their contract. Only 15 international NGOs are allowed to operate in Syria and INGOs face restrictions in establishing sub-national presences.
While the number of national NGOs approved to work with the UN has increased to 66, the number approved to operate in areas with the greatest needs remains extremely limited. There is still no progress on the establishment of additional humanitarian hubs, including in Aleppo, Qamishly and Dera’a, requested more than one year ago. Lengthy customs procedures, complications relating to the sanctions’ regime, and border insecurity continue to delay the importation of essential communication equipment.
And we are now facing additional hurdles. The Council, in your statement, called for the safe and unhindered passage of humanitarian convoys. Yet, the situation on the ground is increasingly complex and dangerous. Some estimate that there are as many as 2,000 armed opposition groups in Syria. Clashes amongst these groups are increasingly common and key humanitarian access routes have been cut off by fierce fighting. While we have been able to negotiate access to some areas, command and control structures in others are unclear and difficult to navigate. At the same time, kidnappings and abductions of humanitarian workers are increasingly common, as is hijacking and seizure of aid trucks. Last week, we had a convoy that was ready to go, but we could not get enough drivers as they fear for their lives.
I must reiterate Mr. President that without real and sustained pressure from this Council on the Government of Syria and opposition groups on the ground, it will be impossible to make further progress. We also need additional funds. Many Member States generously pledged more support in the lead-up to the General Assembly, yet our appeal for the work in Syria and neighbouring countries is only 54% funded. I know that we are not able to reach all those needing help, but we must continue to support those we can while continuing to seek greater access. A winterization plan prepared for Syria requires $1.8 million to meet the most urgent needs. This funding must be received immediately, or it will be too late to procure and deliver urgently needed supplies.
We immediately need humanitarian pauses in all locations where communities are being held hostage by one party or the other to the conflict to deliver food, medicine and shelter. People must be allowed to move to safer areas without fear of attack. We need those who control the check-points, on both sides of the conflict, to ensure the safe and unhindered passage of humanitarian convoys. We need the Government to immediately lift all bureaucratic impediments to humanitarian operations. There is simply no reason why humanitarian staff, whose only interest is to help those in desperate need, have not been granted visas to scale-up our operations.
This is a race against time. Three weeks have passed since the adoption of the Council’s Statement, with little change to report. Each day that passes without the parties upholding their most basic obligations results in more lives lost, more people displaced, more people denied access to the most basic services. As we deliberate, people continue to die unnecessarily. I call upon all members of the Council to exert influence and take the necessary action to stop this brutality and violence. This Council’s leadership role is vital.
Words, despite their ability to shock, cannot really paint a picture of the grim and gruesome reality of Syria today. I am extremely disappointed that we have not been able to make further progress.