One-off, Ad Hoc Delivery to Besieged Areas Will Never Be Enough, He Stresses
After five years of senseless and brutal conflict, a much-needed glimmer of hope had presented itself in Syria, the United Nations humanitarian chief told the Security Council today, during a briefing in which he nevertheless stressed that the sustained, unconditional and unimpeded access required by humanitarian actors was still a long way off.
“The last few weeks have shown that when there is the right amount of political will, the parties and the international community can come together to find ways to reduce the suffering of civilians and engage in talks to bring an end to the conflict,” said Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Far fewer civilians had been killed and injured since the cessation-of-hostilities agreement had taken effect one month ago, and there had been progress on humanitarian access, he told the 15-member Council, noting that the United Nations and its partners had reached several besieged and hard-to-reach areas, some for the first time in months, or even years.
Welcoming the recent commitment by the Government of Syria to simplify administrative procedures for cross-line convoys, he reported that since the beginning of the year, inter-agency convoys had reached 150,000 people in 11 of the 18 besieged areas. Places such as Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kefraya had been reached for three consecutive months, while efforts to safely reach the 200,000 people besieged in parts of Deir ez-Zor city through high-altitude air drops led by the World Food Programme (WFP) were continuing.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator said convoys had also reached some 199,000 people in additional hard-to-reach locations, including Al Wa’er and Al Houle in Homs Governorate, Bludan in rural Damascus Governorate, and about 50,000 people in other priority cross-line locations. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had also been able to provide assistance to an estimated 19,000 Palestinian refugees, he added.
Based on approvals received to date, he continued, the United Nations was currently working to deliver assistance to more than 800,000 people with acute needs in besieged and hard-to-reach areas before the end of April. Should the parties to the conflict facilitate access and secure conditions, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) intended to implement a nationwide vaccination campaign that would target some 1 million children.
Nevertheless, the recent progress on humanitarian access was only a first step towards what was required, he said, emphasizing: “We need to move beyond the notion that one-off, ad hoc distributions of assistance to a given besieged or hard-to-reach location is somehow sufficient and acceptable because it is not and never will be.” Many of the 4.6 million needy people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas remained out of humanitarian reach due to insecurity and obstructions by the parties. And despite recent approvals, the Syrian authorities continued to refuse access to certain locations, some of which were mere minutes from United Nations warehouses.
The situation in such areas was dreadful, he said, adding that Darayya was reportedly suffering severe shortages of food, clean water, medicines, electricity and basic commodities. The food security and nutrition status there was disastrous, with reports of people forced to eat grass. “The daily misery in these areas shames us all,” he stressed. Furthermore, even when access had been granted, serious concerns remained about ongoing exclusion as well as the removal of medical supplies and treatments from convoys. The range of removed items was “scandalous”, and included items for treating child malnutrition and medicine for preventing bleeding after childbirth. Additionally, medical evacuations from besieged and hard-to-reach areas were not being adequately facilitated by the parties.
In conclusion, Mr. O’Brien called for a number of practical and immediate actions that would mean the difference between life and death for many people. They included full access for humanitarian and medical workers to assess the well-being of civilians in all communities and treat those in need; the ability of humanitarian aid to reach those who urgently needed it, including medical supplies, surgical equipment, and nutritional necessities; and support for an urgently needed child immunization campaign.
The meeting began at 10:25 a.m. and ended at 10:43 a.m.