The situation in Syria was at risk of slipping backwards if the international community failed to work towards a sustainable political solution that would allow a more effective humanitarian response, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council today.
“It is the duty of the Security Council to ensure that every possible avenue is explored to end the violence,” said Stephen O’Brien, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. He reiterated the need for sustained, safe, unconditional and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance to civilians caught up in a “senseless fight where nothing is to gain”.
Speaking via video-teleconference from Vienna, he declared: “The parties to the conflict, the Security Council and the co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group must exert every effort to revive the cessation of hostilities.” He emphasized: “You must not squander the opportunity presented by the talks in Geneva and by the cessation of hostilities to put an end to the massive human suffering in Syria.” The world and the people of Syria needed it, he said, adding: “They need your action.”
While the cessation of hostilities had provided a much-needed moment of respite, he continued, recent developments pointed to a worrisome deterioration, with an increase of violence reported in Aleppo, Homs, Idlib, Lattakia and rural Damascus. Government forces had also reportedly resumed aerial bombardments in Dar’a Governorate. Civilians were bearing the brunt of the fighting, with schools, hospitals and marketplaces being hit, he said, expressing concerned that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had advanced east of Azaz and threatened several camps for internally displaced persons.
Thanks to the courage of United Nations staff and humanitarian partners on the ground, some assistance was getting through, he noted. In March, the World Food Programme (WFP) had reached 3.7 million people with food aid, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) had immunized more than 2.1 million children against polio in a nationwide campaign. Cross-border humanitarian convoys had reached nearly twice as many people compared to a year ago. This week, the United Nations had reached Rastan for the first time since April 2015, bearing assistance for 122,500 people, while the WFP had carried out 14 high-altitude airdrops to some 100,000 people cut off by ISIL in Deir er Zour city.
He welcomed the largest medical evacuation in Syria so far, on 20 April, which had involved more than 515 people — including 80 medical cases — from the besieged towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya. However, he expressed regret over the deaths of two children and a young man in Madaya, whose requests for medical evacuation had been rejected. The withholding of medical treatment was being used as a weapon of war, he said, citing reports of parties to the conflict ignoring basic tenets of international humanitarian law. Medical facilities in Latakia, Deir al-Asafeer and Aleppo had been hit, resulting in fatalities, and this week Syrian authorities had removed scissors and anaesthetic medicines from midwifery kits aboard a Rastan-bound convoy. There could never be impunity for such conduct, he stressed.
Voicing concern for yet-to-be-reached locations, he called for immediate access to 35 towns in critical need of assistance, including Derayya, subject of a United Nations needs assessment visit on 16 April — the first since 2012. There, he said, families were eating no more than a meal a day, if at all, with some reduced to consuming grass and wild vegetation. “The population of Derayya remains trapped, hungry and — let’s be clear — starving, a word I never use unless it’s true,” he added.
“We don’t just need sustained, unimpeded and unconditional access, but real and enduring protection for civilians and an improved humanitarian situation for the millions in need,” he said, stressing: “If the international community fails to maintain momentum politically, with the cessation of hostilities, and with humanitarian access, the situation will only spiral further and further out of control.” He underscored that the international community “must not let the chance we have today slip away”.
Before Council members was the report of the Secretary-General (document S/2016/384) on implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015).
The meeting began at 10:33 a.m. and ended at 10:51 a.m.