Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Mark Lowcock, Briefing to the Security Council on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria
New York, 29 October 2018
I concluded my briefing to you last month with a question: would the agreement reached between the Russian Federation and Turkey on Idleb provide only a moment of respite, or would it represent the start of a more stable future for millions of civilians in that part of the country?
We have seen a glimmer of hope in the weeks of relative quiet since the agreement was reached. It is extremely important for millions of people in Idleb that this remains the case. The stakes are high, as the alternative is humanitarian suffering on a scale that would overwhelm all ability to respond, devastating a population that is already weakened through years of conflict, displacement and deprivation.
The United Nations and its partner organizations continue to reach people in need throughout Syria. Over the first seven months of the year, in total across the country, an average of almost 5.5 million people were reached with life-saving assistance each month.
In September, nearly 2.5 million people were reached with food aid from Damascus. That includes some people in areas that have recently come under the control of the Government, with assistance often delivered through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
However, in many areas that recently changed control, the United Nations has not had sustained access.
We have discussed this with the Syrian authorities, who have made clear that areas under their control should now be reached in a comprehensive and regular manner from Damascus. They have also agreed to facilitate a greater number of missions, and that we can more systematically deploy United Nations personnel with aid that is often delivered in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. We look forward to rapid implementation of that approach. It will allow our teams on the ground to undertake essential independent assessments of the situation and see more of who is being helped and how. At the same time, we will continue to submit plans for Government agreement for cross-line access into north-west Syria.
This leads me on to a broader point I wanted to make about the approach we are taking to assessing and meeting humanitarian need across Syria. The UN’s mandate for humanitarian action, set by you in your series of resolutions and also by the General Assembly in resolution 46/182 adopted in 1991, requires us to consult the Government. We think that is very important. At the same time, our mandate also emphasizes the principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality in humanitarian action, in particular to ensure that assistance is provided on the basis of need and not driven or determined by any other considerations.
The humanitarian system is, as you know, financed on a voluntary basis. The main questions I am asked by all those whose help I seek in financing humanitarian action everywhere around the world are always the same. How do you know what the needs are? And how do we know, if we give you money, that it will really get to the people who need it most? If people whose money we are seeking are not persuaded by the answers we provide to those questions, my experience is that they do not give the money we ask for.
So, ensuring we work on the basis of the humanitarian principles is both a matter of complying with our mandates, as we want and as we must do, and a matter of practical necessity.
I have discussed these issues in detail with the Government on a number of occasions in recent weeks. These discussions have led to important agreements in extending the UN’s ability to assess needs as comprehensively as possible, fully in compliance with our mandate, as we prepare the humanitarian needs overview and the UN coordinated response plan we will be publishing for Syria for 2019. I hope to be able to report progress to you in carrying out expanded needs assessment exercises in the next few months.
The United Nations cross-border operation from Turkey has continued to reach hundreds of thousands of people in need every month. It has been scaled up in recent weeks to ensure prepositioning of assistance as a contingency measure in the event of a military escalation, as well as to provide winterization support. Nearly 1,000 trucks are delivering plastic sheeting, winter clothes and boots, heaters and stoves.
Critical supplies also continue to be delivered into north-east Syria through al-Yarubiyah border crossing from Iraq.
In the first nine months of 2018, over 750,000 people on average each month were reached with food aid through United Nations cross-border activities. Sustaining this is essential for those in need, providing aid and supporting service delivery. It is for this reason that the extension of the provisions of resolutions 2165 and 2393 remains of the highest importance. The Secretary General in his report and I, now call upon the Council to renew the resolution for another 12 months.
Cross-border operations continue to be very closely managed and monitored. We continue to take every step possible to ensure United Nations operations meet the highest standards. The way we do that was reviewed in detail earlier this year at the request of this Council and we reported on it to you in June.
We train implementing partners and local authorities on the implementation of international humanitarian law, advocate for principled delivery of assistance with non-State armed opposition groups inside Syria, and we have developed a code of conduct signed by most non-State armed groups operating in northwest Syria committing them to respect international humanitarian law. We also take all possible steps to ensure compliance with money laundering and counter terrorism legislation applicable to the United Nations.
Let me turn to other areas of concern in Syria.
In Rukban, on the Syria-Jordan border, the UN in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, had prepared to undertake a large delivery of assistance from Damascus for 50,000 people, a vaccination campaign for some 10,000 children and a rapid needs assessment. The convoy was planned for Saturday 27 October but reports of insecurity along the route forced us to postpone it. The population at Rukban has not received assistance since January this year, and they are increasingly desperate. There are continuing reports of children dying due to poor sanitary conditions and a lack of healthcare. This dire humanitarian situation cannot be allowed to continue. The UN is ready and willing to proceed with the convoy immediately.
So, my message to all concerned is please make the necessary arrangements to ensure the security of the humanitarian personnel and the accompanying convoy so it can proceed without delay.
Intense fighting continues to affect civilians along the east bank of the Euphrates river in southern parts of Deir-ez-Zor governorate. There have been reports of dozens of civilian deaths and more injuries as Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by International Coalition Forces, engage in hostilities in the final remaining ISIL enclave in Syria. Some 7,000 people have been displaced from Hajin due to fighting in recent weeks. Up to 15,000 people remain trapped inside ISIL controlled areas. An attack by ISIL on one of the camps where displaced people were staying has reportedly resulted in the death and injury of civilians, as well as the abduction of over 100 people. Some of them have since reportedly been killed.
While I remain concerned also about the situation in Raqqa, the United Nations has had increasing access to the area. A September assessment mission by WHO [the World Health Organisation] found that health needs in Raqqa remain great, with an acute shortage of all levels of health care services in the city. Assistance also continues to be provided to Raqqa city and the northeast, with the United Nations and our partner organizations now reaching over 600,000 people each month.
In summary and in conclusion, there are five areas where we now seek the support of Member States and of the Security Council.
- First, continuing implementation of the agreement between Russia and Turkey, and prevention of a military onslaught on Idleb and the surrounding areas, the humanitarian impact of which would, as we have repeatedly told you, be absolutely devastating to the civilian population.
- Second, renewal for another year of resolution 2165, in particular to sustain cross-border aid essential to support and protect more than three million civilians in Idleb – most of them women and children - and for essential supplies and services across the north of Syria.
- Third, support to ensure that our United Nations/Syrian Aran Red Crescent humanitarian convoy is granted secure access to Rukban camp immediately.
- Fourth, support for our effort to improve access, needs assessment and evidence gathering on how the resources we have raised are being used.
- Finally, continued and more generous financing for our current Humanitarian Response Plan. While I am – on behalf of millions of Syrians who are the beneficiaries - extremely grateful for the $1.7 billion dollars we have raised for 2018, this year’s plan is still less than 50 percent funded.