Genuine political commitment to peace in Syria would be needed if 2017 was to offer any prospect other than the death and destruction of the past six years, the head of United Nations humanitarian affairs told the Security Council today.
“The eyes of all Syria, and the eyes of the world, are looking to Geneva,” said Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. Delivering a briefing on the strife-torn country, he said millions of battered and beleaguered women, men and children depended on meaningful action and constructive engagement by the Syrian parties and their allies. Starting at the inter-Syrian negotiations on 23 February, an end to the conflict might finally be within reach, he said.
Next month would mark the sixth anniversary of a war that had devastated a nation, its people and children, he continued, noting that Syrians had seen their country reduced to rubble and loved ones killed or injured. Most of the population — some 13.5 million people — were in need of protection and humanitarian assistance. Nearly 85 per cent of Syrians lived in poverty, with 12.8 million requiring health assistance.
He expressed regret that the destruction of schools and hospitals, the currency devaluation, the impact of sanctions, rising food prices, shortages of fuel and electricity, and lack of clean water had exacted a high toll on Syrian families. Children had been killed, subjected to physical and psychological trauma and forced into early marriages. With the war entering its sixth year, 5.82 million children and youth were in need of education assistance.
“As we move ahead in 2017, I hope it will bring positive change to Syria,” he said, emphasizing the need to remember how much had been lost. While expressing strong support for all efforts to silence the guns, he was concerned about attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including bombardments and air strikes in Idleb and Dar’a, and besieged locations in the eastern Ghouta area, most notably in Duma, Harasta, Zamalka and Jobar, as well as Arbin.
Although the United Nations and its partners had reached millions of Syrians through regular and cross-border programming each month, he said the lack of safe and unimpeded access was the greatest obstacle to delivering aid to besieged areas. Despite considerable improvement, with 3.3 million people reached in 2016, humanitarian actors were too seldom able to deliver life-saving assistance and protection services on a sustained basis. In December 2016, only one convoy had been deployed, reaching 6,000 people despite initial approvals for 800,000.
He went on to urge Member States with influence to ensure that a “zero implementation rate” did not occur again in the coming weeks. The United Nations and its partners were ready and able to deliver assistance to 300,000 people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas per week. “We must be given the chance to do so, as the lives of many depend upon regular and unimpeded deliveries of humanitarian assistance,” he said, emphasizing: “What we need are timely approvals and simplified approval procedures.”
Following the briefing, Elbio Rosselli (Uruguay) expressed hope that 2017 would be the last year of conflict in Syria. The ceasefire agreed at the end of 2016 had led to a sharp drop in violence, allowed delivery of humanitarian relief, and created an environment conducive to the resumption of negotiations in Astana. Uruguay hopes the parties would overcome their mutual distrust and move forward with the political transition process.
Despite those gains, however, the situation of civilians remained alarming and intolerable, he emphasized. There was an urgent need to overcome obstacles to aid delivery, he said, describing the removal of medical kits from convoys — a crime against humanity that was again being reported — as particularly abhorrent. Moving forward, priorities would include bolstering the cessation of hostilities; defending civilians; protecting schools and hospitals; the urgent lifting of all sieges; ensuring the immediate, sustained and unhindered delivery of humanitarian access throughout Syria; continuing the fight against terrorism; and making progress in reaching a political solution.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 3:32 p.m.