Secretary-General's remarks at meeting on the humanitarian crisis in Syria [as prepared for delivery]
St. Petersburg, Russia, 6 September 2013
First of all, I want to thank Prime Minister David Cameron and the Government of the United Kingdom for hosting this morning’s meeting. We are all extremely worried and we all want to see an end to the suffering of the people of Syria.
This is a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions in recent history. The world must do everything within its powers to stop the suffering of the Syrian people. Let us use this united recognition of the problem as our starting point for focused and positive action.
It is critical that the plight of the people remains at the forefront of our considerations.
The humanitarian situation in Syria is dire and continues to deteriorate. As you know, more than 4.25 million people have been displaced within Syria and another two million people have fled the country.
Despite the insecurity and dangers to its staff in Syria, the United Nations and its partners remain committed to stay and deliver. The UN family has 4,500 staff in Syria. Millions are being assisted on a monthly basis and the UN is working hard to ensure equitable distribution on the basis of need, irrespective of whether it is Government or Opposition controlled territories.
Over two million people have reached through UN-led cross line convoys into the hardest to reach areas of the conflict zones.
Yet the response continues to be inhibited by limitations to access, insecurity, and serious financial shortfalls. My Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, whom I have sent to Syria this week to understand the situation and to encourage the Government of Syria to do more, has transmitted to the President of the Security Council key humanitarian requests which include:
Respecting obligations to protect civilians;
Lifting of bureaucratic hurdles so that humanitarian actors can better do their jobs;
For the parties to appoint empowered interlocutors for humanitarian actors;
Ensuring safe passage on key routes or agreement on localized humanitarian cease fires.
On the ground, conditions remain difficult in terms of security. Mortar attacks in Damascus alone are frequent and close. Valerie Amos has had a positive series of meetings with the Syrian authorities this week and we hope to get movement on visas and simplifying procedures.
But there is not yet any definite movement on issues of humanitarian access. Nonetheless, our staff are there and are doing a commendable job.
Your support in exercising leverage on all parties to facilitate humanitarian access is critical.
Relief agencies must be able to reach people in need, wherever they are. We must do more to impress upon all parties their international humanitarian law obligations to protect civilians.
The humanitarian response is also hampered by a lack of funding. The Syria response is only 44 per cent funded and the World Food Programme has already been forced to reduce the size of its food parcels to keep pace with the growing numbers in need. If additional funding isn’t urgently received, there will be a break in the food pipeline in October. The refugee appeal for neighbouring countries is also severely underfunded at only 40 per cent, this adds to the enormous pressures on Host countries, who are shouldering an unfair burden in this crisis.
UN country teams in Syria and neighbouring countries have developed contingency plans should the situation deteriorate further in the coming days and weeks. I must stress however, that funding shortages mean that stocks are limited in the case of Lebanon to days and for Jordan to approximately two weeks. We also must help the neighbours of Syria who have generously hosted Syrian refugees.
I therefore appeal to you to work with new and emerging donors to increase their support to the UN appeals and to find new and creative ways to provide further support as current aid budgets are unable to keep pace with the ever-growing needs.
No one could have imagined two years ago that Syria would end up in this unending misery.
UN staff on the ground report palpable fear as the population fears imminent acceleration and deepening of the conflict.
As some flee the country, others dig in to fight. I must warn that ill-considered military action could cause serious and tragic consequences, and with an increased threat of further sectarian violence.
Thus, we must put an end to the atrocities the Syrian people continue to suffer. We should explore ways to avoid further militarization of the conflict and revitalize the search for
a political settlement instead.
In this spirit, we are determined to renew our efforts to rapidly convene the Geneva conference for Syria as soon as possible. A viable political outcome in Syria must see the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué. I sincerely hope that all of us here at the G20 summit, but also in the Security Council, recognise the need for a political solution to a tragic and prolonged humanitarian crisis.