Humanitarian Space in Syria ‘Ever More Constrained’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Informal Ministerial Consultation on Situation

25 September 2013

Humanitarian Space in Syria ‘Ever More Constrained’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Informal Ministerial Consultation on Situation

25 September 2013
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Humanitarian Space in Syria ‘Ever More Constrained’, Deputy Secretary-General

Tells Informal Ministerial Consultation on Situation


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Informal Ministerial Consultation on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria and Neighbouring Countries, in New York on 25 September:

I welcome this important discussion, and I thank the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the European Union for hosting it.

We know the statistics all too well.  The Syrian conflict is well into its third year.  More than 100,000 people have died.  The daily bloodshed continues unabated.  And, last month, we witnessed the horrific use of chemical weapons.

You will shortly hear about the dire refugee and humanitarian dimensions of the crisis, and efforts being undertaken to respond.  Let me offer a few brief highlights and offer some broader perspective.  Some 7 million people — nearly one third of the population — have been displaced.  Half of those are children.  Some 2.1 million have fled the country as refugees, imposing huge and complex strains on Syria’s neighbours.

Let me give you some snapshots of the regional impact.  Za’atari refugee camp is now the fourth-largest city in Jordan, which has taken in more than 500,000 refugees from Syria — 10 per cent of the Jordanian population.  In Lebanon, that proportion is approaching one quarter.  The influx is costing billions in lost trade and tourism, and putting an unbearable burden on schools, health-care services and the electricity and water infrastructure.  Those key sectors of society were already stretched to the limit.

In Iraq, many of the 200,000 refugees from Syria are living in towns and cities, driving rents up and wages down, and increasing economic and sectarian tensions.  On behalf of the international community, I thank Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq for your hospitality to refugees from Syria, and call on all countries to increase their support for national and international programmes.

But, let us remember — the source of the problem is the situation in Syria, where the need for humanitarian assistance is acute.  More than 3,000 schools and over half the country’s hospitals have been damaged or destroyed.  Human rights are routinely violated and the brutality is increasing on all sides.

I am particularly concerned about the continued flagrant violations of international law that make it impossible to deliver life-saving assistance.  Humanitarian space is becoming ever more constrained.  Eleven UN staff and 22 staff and volunteers from our partners, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have been killed since the start of the conflict.  Many more have been injured, hijacked and kidnapped.

Humanitarian agencies have scaled up their operations in these extremely difficult conditions.  WFP (World Food Programme), through its partners, is delivering food for nearly 3 million people, up from 1.5 million at the beginning of the year.  UN agencies and our partners have provided 10 million people with access to safe drinking water.  A national vaccination programme supported by WHO (World Health Organisation) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has reached more than a million children.

Relief convoys have crossed conflict lines, reaching more than 2 million people since the end of January.  UN agencies and our partners have expanded our field presence to open hubs in Homs and Tartous.  National staff continue to operate from offices in Aleppo, Daraa, Hama, Qamishli, Idlib, Lattakia and Sweida.

But, we face rising levels of insecurity as armed groups proliferate and set up roadblocks on major routes.  Funding is a serious problem.  As we approach the final quarter of the year, the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan is less than 50 per cent funded.  Some sectors are critical.  For example, nutrition is less than 1 per cent funded.

Donors have been very generous to the Syrian people, and I want to thank everyone here who has contributed.  In particular, I would like to thank Canada, the EU (European Union), Germany, Japan, Kuwait, the UK and the US, which, just yesterday, made an additional pledge of $340 million.

Under Secretary-General Valerie Amos is continuing to work with Security Council members to get a humanitarian resolution or presidential statement on Syria.  In August, on behalf of humanitarian partners, she submitted a list of key requests covering access, security and delivery of assistance.

We must renew commitments to deliver the help the people of Syria so desperately need.  The conflict is not just a tragedy for the Syrian people.  It poses serious threats to regional peace and security.  It is providing fertile ground for radical armed groups and for violent extremist ideology.

The growing sectarian nature of the conflict has undermined the long-standing coexistence of all communities.  Incitement along sectarian lines from inside and outside Syria is threatening the region as a whole.  The possibility of reprisal attacks is extremely worrying.

The Syrian Government and opposition groups in areas they control have the moral and legal responsibility to protect all civilians regardless of religion, community or ethnic affiliation.  The people of Syria urgently need a political solution.  We must urgently focus our efforts on convening an international conference on Syria.

The goal is a comprehensive political agreement involving the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué and the formation, by mutual consent, of a transitional governing body with full executive powers.

The Secretary-General stands ready to convene this conference as soon as possible.  In this regard, he looks forward to meeting with Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov and Secretary [John] Kerry later this week, together with Joint Special Representative [Lakhdar] Brahimi, who is engaging with international and regional actors.

We have also noted with appreciation the letter submitted by the President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition to the Security Council last week, reaffirming its willingness to engage in a future Geneva Conference and to implement the Geneva Communiqué.  The confirmed chemical weapons attack on 21 August underscores the need for a negotiated solution.

The Secretary-General has welcomed the understanding reached in Geneva between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Kerry regarding the safeguarding and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  As he said to the General Assembly yesterday, we must build on these signs of unity to get the parties to the negotiating table.

The Secretary-General has called on Security Council members to put aside their differences and reach consensus on an enforceable resolution on chemical weapons.  This should be followed immediately by improved humanitarian action, cessation of hostilities and a political resolution to the conflict.  We appeal to the Government of Syria, the opposition and all with influence over them, to make the Geneva II conference happen as soon as possible.

The Syrian crisis has long been a threat to international peace and security.  Let us work together to finally end this nightmare for the sake of the people of Syria, the region and the world.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.