Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 29 May 2018
New York, 29 May 2018
Thank you, Madam President.
I am going to start today with eastern Ghouta, on which you have had many discussions – and we have provided many briefings – over the last five months, not least in respect of resolution 2401.
After it regained control of the area, the Government of Syria asked the United Nations to provide assistance to local people.
I released $16 million for that from the Syria Humanitarian Fund, for which I am responsible. The United Nations asked for visas for additional staff to work on the problems of the area, some of which were granted.
Over the last two months, local, national and international humanitarian organizations have worked in sites in neighbouring areas which are hosting people displaced from eastern Ghouta. We are providing food, water, shelter, medical services and protection.
The collaboration which underpinned this effort must now extend into eastern Ghouta itself, as people there begin to try to rebuild their lives.
We are providing assistance through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, but the United Nations itself has only received authorization to visit eastern Ghouta once since mid-March. That was for a visit to Saqba and Kafr Batna on 14 May.
During that visit we observed the resumption of some services, with electricity, education and health facilities starting up, for example, and a limited number of businesses and markets reopening.
But it was clear that there are huge unmet needs, and extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure.
The authorities report that more than 10,000 people have returned to eastern Ghouta from Rural Damascus over the past two weeks. This, and the needs of almost 200,000 people believed to have remained throughout the violence, makes access to the area even more critical.
The Government has already approved an inter-agency convoy to bring assistance to 70,000 people in Duma as part of the current bi-monthly plan.
But that convoy has not gone, because facilitation letters have not been provided.
So, I reiterate our request to the Government of Syria to facilitate access to eastern Ghouta, so that needs can be assessed, and assistance and protection scaled up.
The humanitarian situation in and around Afrin remains highly complex. The United Nations and others continue to provide assistance, including food, nutrition, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene and protection services, to people displaced from Afrin to Tal Refaat and elsewhere.
Inside Afrin, humanitarian assistance provided from across the border has been critical for many people. Findings from a recent needs assessment tell us that most health facilities in rural areas remain closed, many medical personnel have fled, and many schools, markets and bakeries are not functional.
We are still concerned about reports that people are being prevented from leaving areas of displacement in Tal Refaat, although we hear that some may have been able to return to Afrin in recent days.
Yarmouk camp and surrounding areas in southern Damascus saw fierce fighting last month, resulting in loss of life and the displacement of an estimated 6,000 people – most of them Palestinian refugees. Last week, combatants and civilians began to be evacuated from Yarmouk. UNRWA reports that as few as 100 refugees may now remain in the camp.
Humanitarian organizations have not been able to access Yarmouk, but UNRWA was allowed to carry out a rapid needs assessment in neighbouring Yalda yesterday. An inter-agency convoy to the area is now a key priority.
I ask the Government to issue facilitation letters for this convoy.
On Rukban, discussions continue on how to deliver aid safely. This long running issue is still not resolved. Humanitarian agencies are working closely with the Syrian authorities, the United States, the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to get agreement on a convoy.
In Raqqa, the United Nations and its partners continue to provide assistance, including monthly food rations, household items, water trucking, psychosocial support for children and primary healthcare services.
However, while 135,000 people are now reported to have returned to Raqqa city, safety remains a very serious concern due to high levels of explosive hazards.
The situation in Idlib is alarming, with airstrikes, clashes between armed groups, overcrowding and severely stretched basic services deepening the suffering of both displaced people who have fled to Idlib and host communities.
More than 80,000 newly displaced people have arrived in Idlib since March. Keeping pace with the increase in needs in Idlib has involved redirecting resources from other activities.
Many of the recent new arrivals in Idlib have come from northern rural Homs. Some 35,000 people were evacuated from this area earlier this month, after a significant escalation. An inter-agency convoy – the first in more than two months – is due to go to northern rural Homs tomorrow with assistance for nearly 93,000 people, following the receipt of facilitation letters on Sunday.
During last week’s open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Secretary-General spoke about medical facilities being routinely attacked, and about medical personnel being targeted or prevented from carrying out their duties around the world.
Violence against health care and health personnel remains a grim hallmark of the conflict in Syria. 92 attacks have been documented over the first four months of this year, involving 89 deaths and 135 injuries.
We are investigating a number of cases of medical facilities being attacked shortly after having been deconflicted. I want to emphasize how concerned I am about this. It is an issue on which I may have to come back to you.
I want finally to say a few words about the humanitarian response and the number of people we are helping despite all these problems.
In Syria we are running one of the world’s largest humanitarian operations, and it continues to save lives every day.
A nationwide immunization awareness campaign took place from 22-30 April. First results indicate that nearly 325,000 children were vaccinated against measles and 1.3 million under-fives were vaccinated against polio.
UN convoys approved by the Government of Syria in those parts of the country under Government control provided food assistance for more than 2 million people last month.
Cross-border deliveries, mandated under your resolution number 2393, provided food for nearly 850,000 people. We are, incidentally, due to present the review commissioned in that resolution to you next month.
There are still more than 2 million people in hard-to-reach areas. Those two million people, in places like northern rural Homs, Douma and southern Damascus are some of the most desperate in the country. Just six inter-agency convoys have reached those areas so far this year, helping 169,000 people. That is less than 20 per cent of the people we would like to be reaching.
So I again ask for the support of Council members for our efforts to ensure safe, unimpeded and sustained access so we can help people like those in hard to reach areas who are in the greatest need. Thank you, Madam President.
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.