The recent “stuttering momentum” in delivering humanitarian aid to Syria’s besieged and hard-to-reach populations must be significantly expanded in the second half of 2016, the United Nations humanitarian chief told the Security Council today, warning that progress made to date was “but a trickle” compared with the country’s overwhelming needs.
“There is something fundamentally wrong in a world where attacks on hospitals and schools […] have become so commonplace that they cease to incite any reaction,” said Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, as he briefed the 15-member body. The Council continued to speak out against the carnage, and yet the world continued to watch Syria disintegrate into bloodshed.
Violence continued unbridled in many parts of the country, he stressed. According to the latest report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had committed genocide and multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Yazidis in the east. In Aleppo Governorate, an ISIL offensive on Azaz and the surrounding area had led to numerous civilian casualties, threatening up to 200,000 of the population, and in Menbij, 45,000 people had been displaced and some 65,000 others were now encircled by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The cruel conflict continued to tear families apart and inflicted brutal suffering on the innocent, he said, recalling that, last week, at least six children had been killed and tens of others injured in heinous attacks near the Sayidda Zeinab shrine. Millions more were in the line of fire, facing crushing poverty and alarming physical danger. Children had been forcibly detained, tortured, subjected to sexual violence and in some cases executed. Some had been recruited by ISIL and other armed groups.
Despite the Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2286 (2016) on the protection of the wounded, the sick and medical and humanitarian personnel in armed conflict, there were dozens of reports of new attacks. He also expressed grave concern about the situation at the berm along the Jordanian border, where the number of asylum seekers had tripled over recent months to a current estimate of over 70,000 people, and which was projected to rise to over 100,000 by year’s end.
United Nations agencies and non-governmental partners continued their tireless efforts to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the Syrian population, he went on. The June plan for humanitarian access had been submitted on 19 May and sought access to 1.1 million people in 34 locations. An initial response received from the Syrian authorities had granted full access to 16 locations, partial access to 13 locations, and no access to five locations. On besieged areas in particular, the United Nations had received approvals to reach 15 such locations by land, leaving a total of 18 locations besieged.
Describing a number of particular inter-agency convoy operations, he said that, despite those efforts, the realities of the ongoing conflict and the continued interference and intransigence of the parties presented serious challenges to the delivery of aid. The limitations placed on access by the Syrian authorities continued to render assistance to some communities a “non-starter” and were compounded by efforts by those same authorities to delay, distract and dismantle convoys. “Organizing the delivery of aid must remain the responsibility of the United Nations and its partners based on need, and not subject to political or other considerations,” he stressed in that regard.
Since January, some 844,325 people had been reached by the United Nations and its partners through inter-agency cross-line convoys, he said, including reaching 334,150 of the 590,200 people living in besieged areas as designated by the United Nations. Nevertheless, major protection concerns, needs and suffering remained. There were now an estimated 5 million people living in hard-to-reach areas, an increase of over 900,000 people from the previous estimate.
It was vital that the momentum sustained on humanitarian access over the past few months continued and improved, he said, expressing hope that by the end of the month all besieged locations will have been reached. The United Nations had submitted its July access plan to the Syrian authorities, requesting access to reach some 1,220,750 beneficiaries in 35 besieged, hard-to-reach and cross-line priority locations. That request had to be approved without any preconditions, he stressed.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.