Humanitarian Situation in Syria ‘a Race Against Time’, Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council

25 October 2013

Humanitarian Situation in Syria ‘a Race Against Time’, Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council

25 October 2013
Security Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

7049th Meeting (AM)

Humanitarian Situation in Syria ‘a Race Against Time’,


Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council


Three weeks after the Security Council expressed alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria, urging all appropriate steps be taken to protect civilians, the international response on the ground remained “severely insufficient”, the top United Nations humanitarian official said today.

Briefing the Council, Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, describing the situation as a “race against time”, said that, without real and sustained pressure from the Council on the Syrian Government and opposition groups, it would be impossible to make progress.  “No one is taking their obligations under intentional humanitarian law and human rights law seriously.”

The presidential statement of 2 October was a clear and united recognition that the appalling suffering inflicted on ordinary people — including children — by the conflict was completely unacceptable, she said.  “Words, despite their ability to shock, cannot really paint a grim and gruesome reality of Syria today.”  Ongoing assessments revealed a substantial increase in needs and in internal displacement.  As winter began to fall across the country for a third year since the conflict began, millions lived in makeshift shelters, exposed to the elements.

All Palestinian refugee camps had been affected by the conflict, she said, tens of thousands of those refugees had their homes damaged or destroyed and more than 50 per cent had been displaced.  Diseases, including those easily prevented by basic hygiene and vaccination, were spreading at an alarming rate.  Reports had emerged of what could be the first polio outbreak in the country in 14 years and of rapidly increasing malnutrition.  People suffering from chronic illnesses, such as cancer and diabetes, lacked access to treatment and were also dying.

There were reports of both Government and opposition military positions in populated areas and of occupation of, and indiscriminate attacks against, civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, power plants and water points, Ms. Amos said.  Since the war began, more than 3,000 schools and a significant number of mosques had been damaged or destroyed.  Around 60 per cent of hospitals, 38 per cent of health centres, 90 per cent of ambulances and 70 per cent of pharmaceutical plants had been affected by the crisis.  The deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel and transportation remained a daily reality.

She stated that, despite the intensification of the conflict, United Nations agencies and partners continued to work in extremely dangerous and difficult conditions to reach millions of people.  Yet, an estimated 2.5 million were trapped, despite attempts to use the provisions outlined in the presidential statement to do much more.

Pointing out bureaucratic impediments, she said all humanitarian staff missions and convoys required written approval, and the processing of visas remained pending.  While the number of national non-governmental organizations approved to work with the United Nations had increased, the number approved to operate in areas with the greatest needs remained extremely limited.

Describing the situation on the ground as “increasingly complex and dangerous”, the Under-Secretary-General said fierce clashes within the estimated 2,000 armed opposition groups cut off key humanitarian routes.  Kidnappings and abductions of humanitarian workers were increasingly common, as were hijackings and seizure of aid trucks.  Her Office’s humanitarian appeal for work in Syria and neighbouring countries was only 54 per cent funded, she said, stressing that a winterization plan required $1.8 million immediately.

Reiterating that only a genuine political process could stop the suffering of the Syrian people, she said that more humanitarian action was needed to reach the ordinary men, women and children who, through no fault of their own, were caught up in the conflict.

Humanitarian pauses were needed in all locations where communities were being held hostage by one party or the other, she said, in order to deliver food medicine and shelter.  People must be allowed to move to safer areas without fear of attack, while those who controlled the checkpoints needed to ensure the safe and unhindered passage of humanitarian convoys.  The Government must immediately lift all bureaucratic impediments.

Each day that passed without the parties upholding their most basic obligations resulted in more lives lost, more people displaced, and more people denied access to the most basic services, she concluded.  “I call upon all Members of the Council to exert influence and take the necessary action to stop the brutality and violence.”

The meeting began at 9:36 a.m. and ended at 9:50 a.m.

* *** *

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