Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller - Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, 25 April 2019
Thank you, Mr. President.
Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine.
Since I briefed this Council two months ago, the conflict in Ukraine has remained an active one – with a daily impact on civilians on both sides of the ‘contact line’ – as coping mechanisms are stretched to their limit. After five years of conflict that saw more than 3,300 civilians killed and up to 9,000 injured, 3.5 million people still need humanitarian assistance and protection.
Half a million people live within only five kilometres of the ‘contact line’ where shelling, gunfire, landmines and unexploded ordnances put them in danger – many of whom are elderly, women and children. Many of these people live in settlements that have been isolated by the conflict, making it difficult to access markets, livelihoods, healthcare and schools.
Shelling damages and disrupts critical civilian infrastructure, even though it serves both sides of the ‘contact line’. In 2019, 24 incidents have affected water and sanitation facilities and 12 incidents have affected schools. For instance, the 1st Lift Pumping Station of the South Donbas Water Way, which supplies water to more than 1.1 million people on both sides of the ‘contact line’, has already been affected by 16 separate incidents, including shelling, this year. It must be underscored that attacks against civilian infrastructure increase the risks communities face when their access to water, energy and education services are interrupted.
Since I last briefed this Council, civilian workers came under small-arms fire while conducting emergency repairs of impacted power lines in Marinka (Donetska oblast, GCA) and water pipelines damaged in the area between Berezove (Donetska oblast, GCA) and Olenivka (Donetska oblast, NGCA). While no casualties were reported due to these incidents, the repair works were suspended and further delayed, as the workers were forced to evacuate to safe areas.
Parties to the conflict must take all precautions to avoid, and in any event minimize, civilian harm. International humanitarian law must be upheld by all parties to protect civilians and their access to critical services at all times.
In addition, I have previously commended the Government of Ukraine in this Council on the adoption of its national strategy on internally displaced persons (IDPs) – as one and a half million people are registered as IDPs – and continue to encourage the Government to make sufficient funding available for the implementation of this strategy. The United Nations will continue to support these important efforts for the internally displaced.
I have three messages for the Council’s consideration today.
The first is that freedom of movement of people affected by this crisis must improve. Since April 2014, over 1,000 civilians were killed or injured by mines and explosive remnants of war. Minerelated incidents were the leading cause of casualties among children last year. This is unacceptable. I implore all parties to immediately cease using landmines and to work with mineaction partners to provide awareness to civilians and plan for demining.
While, overall, the crossing conditions have improved since last year, essential services at checkpoints need to be further enhanced on both sides of the ‘contact line’. And delays in crossing must be reduced. Since I last briefed, 12 civilian deaths were reported at the checkpoints in eastern Ukraine – mainly due to health issues complicated by delays – bringing the total number to 22 civilian deaths since the beginning of 2019. I must again inform this Council, as I did in February, that there has been no progress on repairing the pedestrian bridge of Stanytsia Luhanska, which civilians – many disabled or elderly with limited mobility – must cross to reach essential services, including healthcare, or access to their pensions, which for many is their only means of support. I regret that I have to encourage again the immediate rebuilding of the bridge, and simultaneously, improvement of the conditions at the bridge; speedy passage, in particular for those who are suffering from health issues, must be ensured.
The second message concerns support for humanitarian access in eastern Ukraine which remains unpredictable, particularly in areas beyond government control. Humanitarian assistance should not be politicised. The United Nations and its partners provide assistance in accordance with the universally recognized principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. As they seek to reach the most vulnerable civilians, humanitarian organizations require unimpeded and sustained access.
The third message is that all efforts must be made to increase humanitarian funding. More resources are urgently required to meet people’s needs. Through the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, which aims to provide 2.3 million people with protection and assistance to restore their access to livelihoods, essential services and critical infrastructures, the United Nations and its partners require US$162 million. Humanitarian organizations remain committed to provide relief to the people of Ukraine, but unfortunately, as of today, only 9 per cent of the funding they require has been received. Donors have been generous over the years, and the recently-established Ukraine Humanitarian Fund is receiving support from donors; but more is needed. I encourage increased engagement and support for humanitarian action in Ukraine.
The people of Ukraine continue to suffer the effects of this conflict. We must redouble our efforts to provide them with all necessary assistance and protection. I also call on the parties to find solutions to this crisis, in order to avoid further suffering. The people of Ukraine deserve nothing less.