Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock: Statement to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 19 December 2017
Thank you, Mr. President,
Let me begin by welcoming the action you have taken today to adopt Security Council resolution 2393. I note your request to the Secretary-General to conduct an independent review, and for us to work even harder on monitoring, reporting and data gathering. We will of course do all that.
Cross-border deliveries will remain an essential part of our efforts to meet the needs of all those across Syria who require humanitarian assistance.
This will hardly be news to you, but it is important for me to repeat that in besieged eastern Ghouta increased fighting and lack of humanitarian access is rendering life unbearable for an estimated 393,000 people trapped inside the enclave. Thousands of civilians are caught in fighting that threatens their lives on a daily basis. Except for a pause of two days, intensive air and ground-based strikes have been reported every day since mid-November. There has been significant loss of civilian life and hundreds have been wounded, both in eastern Ghouta and in Damascus city, where shelling from the besieged enclave has continued.
Over the past weeks, the UN and its humanitarian partners have been allowed to reach only seven per cent of those besieged in the towns and villages of eastern Ghouta. Tiny amounts of aid have been allowed in, enough for only a fraction of those in desperate need. Food shortages have led in many cases to severe acute malnutrition, and a nutrition sector survey conducted in November showed a rapid and significant deterioration in the nutritional status of children under the age of five. Nearly 12 per cent of children have been diagnosed with global acute malnutrition, a five-fold increase in the past ten months. That is the highest level of malnutrition recorded so far in the country since the conflict began. These children, whose lives depend on timely and targeted intervention, need our immediate support.
In addition, more than 500 people in eastern Ghouta still require urgent medical evacuation.
They include, 137 children, 231 girls and women, and 61 people over the age of 65. There are 73 people with severe cancer. There 25 patients with kidney failure. There are 97 people with heartdisease. There are five acutely malnourished children. Infants – some of them just one or two months old – will die if evacuation permits are not granted immediately. There have already been 16 civilian deaths among those waiting for permission to leave eastern Ghouta for medical reasons, including three in the last few days. Among them are a 45-day old infant, a nine-year old girl, and a quadriplegic.
All that is needed is the green light from the Syrian authorities for these people to go to hospitals just a few miles outside of eastern Ghouta.
There has also been minimal progress in recent months in responding to the needs of those trapped and besieged in Foah, Kefraya and Yarmouk. Thus far this year, only a trickle of assistance has been allowed in for the people in need.
Humanitarian access continues to face restrictions in all the besieged and hard-to-reach locations.
On average in 2017, only 27 per cent of people identified to receive assistance under the UN’s bi-monthly plans have in fact been reached through inter-agency cross-line convoys each month.
Bureaucratic impediments, like the non-issuance of facilitation letters, continue to be a significant factor in these delays, despite the creation of the tripartite coordination mechanism intended to address such problems.
In November, only five cross-line convoys were able to deploy, reaching 200,250 people in hardto-reach locations and 28,700 people in besieged locations out of a total besieged population of more than 400,000 people.
So far in December, none – none – of our convoys have made it to any of the besieged locations.
Only two convoys have received the necessary authorizations for deployment to hard-to-reach locations; namely the convoy to Harbanisfe in Hama Governorate and the one to Al Houla in Homs Governorate, on 14 December, which delivered assistance for 60,000 people. These deliveries were themselves delayed, following a reduction in the agreed number of beneficiaries by one-third from what had initially been approved in the access plan.
This past month, the UN and its partners has continued to reach millions of people in need through regular programming to Government of Syria-controlled parts of the country and crossborder operations. Regular programming from within the country resulted in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to millions of people in need, including some 2.7 million people who received food assistance so far this month through more than 1,595 deliveries. Cross-border activities also remained a vital part of the humanitarian response, with the UN and its partners providing services for health, education, protection, water and sanitation, as well as humanitarian supplies. More than 650 trucks have this month delivered food assistance to more over 900,000 people through cross-border operations, as well as health assistance for nearly one million treatments.
The overall humanitarian and protection situation for civilians displaced from Raqqa city remains of high concern to me, particularly due to explosive remnants of war and mines. Civilian death and injury due to mine explosions continue to be reported with alarming frequency. More than 125 civilians have been killed and almost 200 trauma cases have been reported since the end of military activities in Raqqa city. Contamination from explosive hazards, including improvised explosive devices, presents a major threat and impediment to enable safe returns. The full scale of the contamination is not yet fully known given lack of a systematic survey of the city. In addition to the threat posed by unexploded ordnance, up to 80 per cent of all buildings in Raqqa city are severely damaged, and at risk of collapse. These conditions mean that humanitarian organizations have only very limited access and presence on the ground.
In Deir ez-Zor Governorate, military offensives to retake the remaining ISIL-held areas continue to prompt significant population displacement. More than 250,000 displacements were registered in November. Government advances against ISIL along the Euphrates River have displaced thousands of people from Abu Kamal sub-district, near the border with Iraq. Military operations and associated heavy aerial attacks have reportedly resulted in more than 150 civilian casualties. The majority of IDPs are suffering in dire circumstances, due to an extreme shortage of shelter, food and safe water. On 12 December, a Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy was finally able to deliver food, health and other relief items provided by the UN and other partners to some 15,000 children, women and men in Abu Kamal city.
People continue to suffer from the effects of conflict in other areas of the country that have received less attention. Increased fighting in the last two months in Hama, Idleb and Aleppo Governorates resulted in more than 90,000 people being displaced. Most of these people moved further into Idleb Governorate, which is already under strain from hosting extraordinary numbers of IDPs. The humanitarian response in this area has been difficult due to the ongoing violence, and what little humanitarian infrastructure there is continues to be impacted by the fighting.
October and November were the worst months this year for displacement, with 440,000 people forced to move in October and almost 375,000 in November. That brings the total number of people displaced just this year to around 2.6 million – 7,700 displacements every day. Many have been displaced more than once.
The last time humanitarian assistance was delivered to the people in Rukban camp located on the border with Jordan, was in June this year. I am urging, still, the Government of Syria to authorize – as a matter of urgency – inter-agency deliveries of life-saving humanitarian assistance to them from Damascus. In the meantime, let me say that I am very grateful for efforts to permit an exceptional delivery of humanitarian assistance from Jordan to those people and I hope that can happen straight away.
The civilian population of Syria deserves to see a tangible improvement in their daily lives because they have always borne the brunt of this unrelenting conflict. I urge you all to do everything that you can to ensure that 2018 brings some relief to their suffering.