In Syria, ‘Best Humanitarian Solution Is a Political Solution to End the War’, Secretary-General Tells Pledging Conference

31 March 2015

In Syria, ‘Best Humanitarian Solution Is a Political Solution to End the War’, Secretary-General Tells Pledging Conference

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s opening remarks at the Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, in Kuwait today:

It’s a great pleasure and honour for me to chair this conference and to welcome you all today.

Let me begin by thanking His Highness Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah for hosting this Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria for the third time.  His support and his announcement of a contribution in the amount of $500 million is clear testament to the Government of Kuwait’s global commitment to humanitarian action.

I would like to again express my deepest appreciation and admiration on behalf of all of us for his compassionate global humanitarian leadership.  Thank you, Your Highness, for your leadership and caring hands. I would also like to extend my personal thanks to the staff of all humanitarian agencies and our local partners in Syria and across the region.  Despite the dire conditions, you continue to stay and deliver as a lifeline for millions of Syrians.  Thank you for your courage and commitment.  We are profoundly grateful.

Allow me to extend a special word of gratitude to outgoing Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos.  As Emergency Relief Coordinator, she has stood up, not only for the people of Syria, but also people in need around the world.  I know you join me in thanking her for her courage and compassion and wishing her well.

The Syrian people are victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.  They are not asking for sympathy, they are asking for help.  Last night, I saw a deeply moving video entitled Clouds Over Sidra.  It is an amazing virtual reality production of the starkness of life in the Za’atari Refugee Camp through the eyes of a beautiful young girl by the name of Sidra.  She says “I have been here a year and a half, and that is long enough… but no one knows when it will be safe to go home, nor what will be left for them when they return.”

I often think back on my visits in recent years to refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.  Children asked:  “Why am I here?  What did I do wrong?  When can I go home?”

I have no answer.  I have only shame and deep anger and frustration at the international community’s impotence to stop the war.  Year, after year, after year, the world has watched Syria being torn apart.  By conservative estimates, more than 220,000 Syrians are now dead.  This number is likely much higher.  Four out of five Syrians live in poverty, misery and deprivation.  The country has lost nearly four decades of human development.  Unemployment is over 50 per cent.  Life expectancy has been cut by an astounding 20 years.

Regional stability is buckling under the weight of the Syrian crisis.  Nearly half of the country's men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes.  Palestinian refugees in Syria are facing extreme hardship — most vividly demonstrated by epic scenes of suffering at Yarmouk camp.  Most have been displaced, yet again.  Many of the nearly 560,000 Palestine refugees had been self-sufficient.  Today, 95 per cent are entirely dependent on [the] United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Syria’s children continue to suffer on a scale that haunts the soul.  Young girls and boys have been systematically killed, injured and displaced.  Attacks have directly targeted schools.  More and more children are being recruited to fight.  Millions are out of school, creating yet another lost generation.

Now we are about to reach yet another grim milestone — close to 4 million people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.  I thank the Governments and people of the host countries who are carrying an undue and heavy burden — most notably Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.   They have opened their doors, their hearts and their wallets to Syrian families running for their lives.

Yet, we know that essential services, such as health, education and sanitation are at a breaking point.  Competition for jobs, housing, water and land is undermining social cohesion in neighbouring countries.  Every day it gets worse — for the people of Syria and the region at large.

The United Nations is working to address the conflict's deep roots and devastating impact.  Our cross-border assistance authorized by the Security Council is reaching more people inside Syria.  This is encouraging, but it is not nearly enough.

Almost 5 million Syrians are still trapped without food or medical help in hard-to-reach or besieged areas.   Governments or movements that aspire to legitimacy do not place severe limits on access for life-saving aid to their own people.

Despite the challenges, threats and attacks against aid workers, UN agencies and our international and local partners continue to provide life-saving assistance, through regular, cross-line and cross-border operations.  Our human rights colleagues are diligently monitoring, documenting and speaking out against atrocities.  We must ensure that serious crimes do not go unpunished.  The Syrian people deserve accountability.

Last year’s conference generated $2.4 billion in pledges — more than 90 per cent of which have been committed.  I would particularly like to recognize the efforts of the Top Donors Group.  Yet, the scale of needs continues to grow.  That is why the 2015 appeals amount to $8.4 billion.  The Syria Strategic Response Plan and the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan reflect the needs of countries hit most by the crisis as they address both humanitarian and development needs simultaneously.In addition to life-saving aid, the appeals promote resilience inside and outside Syria.  Kuwait III is the opportunity for international community to show generosity and to demonstrate how development and humanitarian assistance can be joined up.  I am pleased that so many development partners are showing their solidarity by linking humanitarian and development projects.  However, this approach will only succeed if donors follow suit.

We have seen the consequences of underfunding:  they are catastrophic, leaving neighbouring countries on their own as they struggle to provide for refugees, while meeting their own development needs.

There are no simple answers to this merciless conflict.  But, we know the best humanitarian solution to end the suffering is a political solution to end the war.  Absent a political agreement based on the Geneva Communiqué, the scale and regional impact of the world’s worst humanitarian disaster will only grow.  The Syrian people are looking to us.

We must deliver.  And I thank you for humanitarian leadership and generosity.

For information media. Not an official record.