Grim conditions in Syria despite greater access, UN aid chief warns Security Council

Stephen O'Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, addresses the Security Council on the situation in Syria. UN Photo/Manuel Elias

30 March 2016 – There are signs of humanitarian progress in Syria with more aid reaching those in urgent need, but conditions remain “dire” throughout the country with only 30 per cent of people in besieged areas reached and even fewer in hard-to-reach areas, the top United Nations humanitarian official said.

Addressing the Security Council in New York, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Stephen O'Brien said that inter-agency convoys have reached 150,000 people in the 11 of the 18 besieged areas in Syria, and welcomed the commitment by the Government of Syria to simplify administrative procedures for cross-line convoys.

He cautioned, however, that “we are a long way from the sustained, unconditional and unimpeded access that is required of the parties under international law and was and is demanded by this Council in its resolutions.”

Access for humanitarian aid

Some 13.5 million people remain in need of humanitarian aid, with some 4.6 million in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, according to UN figures.

“The Syrian authorities continue not to give approval to certain locations,” he said, noting three besieged areas “mere minutes' drive away from UN warehouses in Damascus,” comprised of Duma, East Harasta and Darayya.

He recounted the “dreadful” situation in these areas, particularly Darayya, with severe shortages of food, clean water, medicines, electricity and basic commodities.

“The daily misery in these areas shames us all,” Mr. O'Brien said, adding that some people are forced to eat grass to subsist.

The top UN humanitarian official also noted many hard-to-reach areas, saying he was “deeply troubled” for the more than 210,000 civilians in northern Rural Homs and the 15,000 people in neighbouring Habarnafse and surrounding communities in rural Huma.

“People in these areas have essentially no possibility to move in or out of the areas and have diminishing access to clean water, medical care, and food,” he said.

Mr. O'Brien also highlighted the plight of the estimated nearly two million people living in areas held by The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levans (ISIL) to which the UN has little or no access, and from where reports continue on widespread human rights abuses.

Removals from convoys

Even where there is access, convoys do not reach destinations intact, with more than 80,000 medical supplies and treatments removed from convoys in 2016. The items range from treatment for child malnutrition to medicine to prevent bleeding after child birth.

“I call on all parties, particularly the Syrian authorities, to allow for all necessary medical items and equipment, including surgical items, to be allowed onto the convoys,” Mr. O'Brien said.

He added that without proper medical evacuations from besieged and hard-to-reach areas, “people continue to die unnecessarily.”

'Humanitarian objectives are not political'

In his address to the Council, the senior UN official noted that all Syrians are suffering given the destruction of schools and hospitals, the rising costs and shortages of basic items and services, and the devaluation of the currency.

“As humanitarians, our objective is not political and it is not military,” Mr. O'Brien said. “It is about providing emergency aid and protection to people in desperate need and precarious circumstances, wherever they are in Syria.”

He reiterated the call on 15 March from 102 humanitarian agencies for immediate and sustained access in Syria, including for support for a nationwide immunization campaign for children.

He noted also the resumption of political talks last week led by Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura and urged “all of us” to rally behind the efforts to bring an end to the conflict.


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