Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 13 December 2018

Originally published


New York, 13 December 2018

As delivered

Thank you, Mr. President.

Let me begin today by thanking you for your decision just now to pass Security Council resolution 2449 (2018). Cross-border aid provides a critical lifeline for millions of Syrians who cannot be supported through other means. You have done your part; we will now do ours to sustain aid in a way that is as effective and accountable as possible.

Mr. President,

The situation in the north-west of Syria, where some three million people remain dependent on humanitarian cross-border operations, remains very challenging. While the pause in airstrikes has had a meaningful impact on the lives of the people there, shelling and fighting in areas in and around the demilitarized zone continue to result in civilian death and injury and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. In late November, a mortar struck a primary school in Jarjnaz town just as students were leaving, killing four boys and two girls and injuring 10 other children.

Insecurity continues, and incidents affecting civilians continue to be reported every day.

The recent hostilities have reportedly forced nearly 15,000 people to flee their homes for neighboring villages, with many people living in the open without adequate shelter during the cold winter months. They join the many thousands already living in tents or under plastic sheeting. The United Nations and non-governmental organizations continue to respond to ensure those in need get help but fighting and displacement make the situation more difficult and the population more vulnerable.

Idleb remains on the edge of a humanitarian disaster. Should there be a further escalation of violence, the needs would quickly overwhelm the ability of humanitarian agencies to respond. The parties to the conflict must take care to spare the civilian population, while at the same time taking all possible measures to see that the violence in Idleb ends, and that the "humanitarian catastrophe" the Secretary-General has warned of does not come to pass.

Mr. President,

Humanitarian organizations estimate that up to 6,000 people remain trapped in areas under the control of ISIL east of the Euphrates in the Deir-ez-Zor governorate. Civilians continue to suffer as a result of both ground fighting and airstrikes. On 29 November, airstrikes reportedly hit a field hospital in the area, killing and injuring scores of civilians, including women, children and medical staff. Freedom of movement is heavily restricted. Some 9,000 people have been able to flee since September, but they continue to find themselves in harm's way, living in difficult conditions, and with extremely limited access to basic services and assistance.

The last aid to reach displaced people in the area was in October. The last humanitarian mission to the area had to turn back when its vehicles came under attack and one aid worker was shot. After receiving treatment, he is now in a stable condition, but the civilians in the area continue to suffer without the basic support they need.

I also remain very concerned about the more than 40,000 people in Rukban, where we continue to receive reports of civilian suffering and death. The deployment of our convoy in early November has shown that when there is political will, humanitarian organizations can mobilize quickly and provide help to those in need. Thank you again to all those involved in that. We need to build on this first delivery with a second convoy later this month to provide food, water, hygiene and sanitation support and, medical and nutrition items as well as blankets, mattresses and other essential non-food items to help protect people during winter. A second convoy will also allow us to carry out further vaccinations and speak to people about their plans as we look towards more sustainable solutions.

I do want to assure you that the first delivery was effective. We monitored the delivery of aid inside the camp for three days. We will make additional efforts to strengthen the monitoring of the distribution in the next convoy. We will send a bigger team, and plan to accompany the assistance from the offloading point to the distribution points inside the makeshift settlement, to oversee the actual distributions and to conduct post-distribution monitoring.

So my message to all concerned parties is simple: please provide the authorizations and facilitation letters and all the necessary security guarantees for the convoy to proceed without delay or impediment.

Mr. President,

Sustaining and scaling up the response is also critical in other parts of the country, including in areas under the control of the Government, where we now estimate that 8.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Between January and September, humanitarian organizations operating from inside Syria have been reaching an average of 3.2 million people each month.

A key priority has been addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in locations that have seen shifts in control. Some 1.6 million people live in areas that have changed control since the beginning of the year. Some areas have suffered for years under siege, have been impacted by intense military activity prior to changing control, or have seen no resumption of basic services since changing control. Up to one-third of these people are living in areas categorized by the UN as hard-to-reach, where the UN and its partners do not have sustained presence, and as a result humanitarian needs are particularly severe. Aid has reached 40 per cent of these locations, including through a blanket agreement for access to northern rural Homs and southern Hama. However, sustained access to too many areas remains limited, and some areas are still not accessible at all.

Improving our response is not only about reaching more people, although that is part of it. We are also increasingly focused on further improving the quality of our access and programming. What do we mean by quality in humanitarian access?

First, that assistance is based on an assessment of needs. Second, being able to monitor and evaluate our impact, including by directly engaging with the people we are trying to help. Third, ensuring protection for the most vulnerable, and sustaining our reach month after month, based on the needs identified.

We are making progress in many of these areas. The United Nations is reaching many places, with over 550 missions over the last three months to assess, deliver or monitor the delivery of assistance.

We are also working on expanding our field presence in governorates outside Damascus, to enhance our ability to engage with communities, to assess needs, to deliver assistance and to monitor impact.

We continue to engage with all parties to the conflict, including the Government of Syria, at multiple levels to negotiate access and ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those in most need. I will report to you on our progress in improving access in the months ahead.

Mr. President,

Let me conclude by recalling the five requests I made of the Council two months ago. The full implementation of these requests will remain an important focus of our work as we move into 2019, recognizing that other issues may also arise, as the situation evolves.

  • First, with the passage of resolution 2449 (2018), important progress has been made, but we must see access continue without impediment.
  • Second, while we have seen continued implementation of the agreement between Russia and Turkey in the north-west, it is critical that it be sustained with respect for civilians and civilian infrastructure, and that there be an end to the current hostilities. A full military onslaught on Idleb and the surrounding areas must be avoided at all costs.
  • Third, support to ensure that approval for the next humanitarian convoy to Rukban is immediately granted and secure access is provided to the makeshift settlement.
  • Fourth, your ongoing support so we can further build on our efforts to ensure quality access, through which we can carry out additional needs assessments, deliver to all areas where needs are most severe and monitor the impact our interventions.
  • Fifth, financing for our current Humanitarian Response Plan. Donors have provided over $2.1 billion this year, but the Plan remains only two-thirds funded.

Thank you.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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