Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria today:
I welcome this opportunity to brief the Security Council about the humanitarian situation in Syria. My latest report is now before the Security Council. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will brief you in detail. I will focus my remarks on the decisions soon to be taken by the Security Council.
For many of Syria’s people, the situation today is worse than at any time since the conflict began; 13.4 million people need humanitarian assistance; 12.4 million people are food-insecure; gross domestic product has plummeted by 60 per cent since 2011; jobs have disappeared, prices have skyrocketed, and goods are scarce; people are coping by reducing meal size or forgoing them altogether.
The economic crisis is now compounded by drought. The water deficit in the Euphrates basin is the worst in memory. If water levels drop any lower, the Tishreen and Tabqa dams will stop generating electricity. COVID-19 is racing across the country, with high transmission rates taxing an already fragile health system, and while a ceasefire is largely holding, there are constant violations, including the appalling attack on Al Shifa’a Hospital earlier this month. The coping strategies of the Syrian people are at their absolute limit.
The United Nations humanitarian operation in Syria is today the biggest in the world. Our most recent appeal seeks $4.2 billion to ease the country’s plight. Another $5.8 billion is being requested to support refugees in the region. As of today, we have recorded $636 million for the Syria response, and just $600 million for the regional response. That is a fraction of what is needed. I appeal to donors to step up life-saving assistance and in helping to build resilience to face these enormous challenges.
Let me turn now to the acute situation in the north-west, the worst in the country. More than 70 per cent of the region’s population are in need — almost all of them are in severe need, requiring basic humanitarian assistance to survive; 2.7 million are displaced. It is absolutely essential to maintain and increase our level of support.
Despite the UN’s massive response in Syria and across the region, more humanitarian access is required to reach those most in need. That is why I have been clearly expressing how important it is to maintain and expand access, including cross-border and cross-line operations. We are in dialogue with Turkey and groups in control of the area, and I have strong hopes that it will be possible to start cross-line operations soon. But we must recognize that they will never be able to replace cross-border assistance at the present levels.
I organized the first large cross-line convoys in Syria when I was High Commissioner for Refugees and I have been following closely the current cross-line operations into the north-east. Even with that enhanced effort, the situation there has become more difficult since the closure of cross-border operations last year. In the past 12 months, we have been carrying out massive cross-border operations in the north-west — with more than 1,000 trucks moving through a single crossing point per month. Each step of the delivery is scrupulously monitored by people on the ground to ensure that this aid is not diverted and reaches its intended beneficiaries.
I strongly appeal to the members of the Council to reach consensus on allowing cross-border operations as a vital channel of support for another year. A failure to extend the Council’s authorization would have devastating consequences. The Syrian people are in dire need and it is essential to mobilize all our capacities, along all channels.
But let’s not forget that the solution to the Syrian tragedy can only be political. Syrians must come together to agree on their future. It is time to end this decade-long nightmare.