28 July 2015 A political solution is more urgent than ever to end the “futile, hopeless” cycle of brutality and violence in Syria, the top United Nations humanitarian official said today, urging the Security Council to consider its options through “the eyes of the beleaguered, now long-suffering” civilians.
“There are no humanitarian solutions to this crisis. Each day that passes without the parties upholding their most basic obligations to protect civilians, and the strong demands of this Council, only results in more lives lost; more people displaced; more people without access to basic services; and a generation of children who struggle to obtain an education or have any sense of a future for themselves,” declared Stephen O’Brien, the UN Under-Secretary General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Addressing the Council for the first time since taking up his post, he said it was “with much regret” that its inaugural statement continues where his predecessor had left off, chronicling yet another month of “grim statistics” to convey the “horrors” of a brutal conflict.
Urging donors and others to step up their financial support to the humanitarian effort in Syria, Mr. O’Brien, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, assured the Council that, until there is a political settlement, humanitarian needs will only grow. Currently, the response plan for Syria is only 27 per cent funded.
“In advance of my proposed visit to Damascus next month, I can only report on the verified facts – but the facts speak for themselves,” he stated.
This latest report is “no different” and comes, depressingly, as no surprise, highlighting how much worse the situation has become for so many civilians across Syria, the Under-Secretary General acknowledged, stressing that 12.2 million Syrians now are in need of humanitarian assistance today. It is estimated that some 220,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the conflict.
“In the face of such violent, indiscriminate onslaughts, it is simply not difficult for each one of us to feel what that must be like for the Syrian people, community by community; it is…the worst of all choices – either flee or be killed.”
Over the last several weeks, the Government of Syria and allied forces have pressed their attack on Zabadani in rural Damascus, leading to an unprecedented level of destruction and death among civilians, said Mr. O’Brien. At the same time, he added, non-State armed groups have threatened to overrun two Government-held villages near Idlib city, Kefraya and Fouah. He said he remains “extremely concerned” about the 15,000 civilians caught in the middle of fighting in these areas.
Intense fighting across the country has also caused a surge in displacement, he said, noting that well over 100,000 people fled the southern areas of Al-Hasakeh city following Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’s advances last month. In Ar-Raqqa Governorate, over 70,000 people had to flee as fighting escalated between ISIL and non-State armed groups, and in southern Syria, over 40,000 people fled Dar’a city following an offensive by non-State armed groups launched on the city.
“Altogether, over one million people have been displaced from their homes in 2015 so far, many for the second or third time; this adding to the 7.6 million people already internally displaced as of the end of 2014.”
Another “tragic milestone” was recorded when the number of registered refugees reached four million in early July, which makes it “the largest refugee population from a single conflict worldwide in over a quarter of a century.”
Overall, water availability has been reduced by half around the country since the start of the conflict, resulting in a significant increase in water-borne diseases during the hot summer months, with thousands of cases of acute diarrhoea, Hepatitis A and typhoid reported.
More broadly, the relentless conflict in Syria is gradually destroying the country’s social and economic fabric, eroding the development gains made over several generations: 80 per cent of people living in poverty; rampant food insecurity amid rising prices; degradation of vital infrastructure and limited access to basic services; and families and community networks destroyed.
A child born in 2011, entering school this year, will only know war. With the bombing of schools and the fear of young people, this is producing a completely lost generation of educated Syrians, which bodes ill for the future we all hope Syria will one day start rebuilding.
“With unimpeded access, imagine how many more millions could be reached. But access is severely restricted,” Mr. O’Brien told the Council, citing widespread fighting, shifting conflict lines, and intentional obstacles put in place by all parties.
Finally, he said, some 4.6 million people, “around a quarter of the country’s population,” live in areas that remain extremely hard to reach for humanitarian actors, and some 422,000 people are in areas that remain besieged by the parties.
Some progress was made when the Syrian Government approved an additional number of inter-agency convoys in June, noted the Under Secretary-General. “However, 45 convoy requests, including 33 made on 1 July, remain pending and I call upon the Government of Syria to positively consider and grant these requests.”
He hoped that his proposed visit to Damascus next month will provide an opportunity to constructively engage with the authorities to address some of the significant access challenges that seriously impede humanitarian operations and prevent ordinary Syrians from getting the assistance “they so desperately need.”
News Tracker: past stories on this issue