UN Deputy Special Envoy, Ramzy E. Ramzy
Good afternoon everybody. We just concluded a meeting of the Humanitarian Taskforce. It was an important and useful meeting. It comes against the backdrop of two developments, as you are aware.
There has been some positive movement in terms of humanitarian access yesterday and expectations there will be some more positive developments in the next few days, but of course we have to wait and see.
The other development of course is the deadline for the air drops of June 1. This issue of course was discussed in detail in the humanitarian taskforce. As you know this is a decision by the ISSG at the ministerial level, and therefore it is the duty of the taskforce to see it through. Now based on that decision, WFP has studied the issue and is in the process of finalizing its plans, and it did put forward where it is right now to the members of the taskforce. As you know, the air delivery is certainly not a substitute for land delivery. Land delivery is more effective, more efficient and less costly. Air delivery is complex and extremely expensive but it remains an option, if land deliveries do not go through.
Clearly, in spite of these positive developments, it is not enough. The humanitarian access and delivery is not to the level that we all aspired to so we all need to continue to work, and we thank the members of the ISSG for helping us to press all parties to ensure this access is continuous and unhindered. Particularly we would like to thank the co-chairs for their efforts and particularly in the case of Darayya, it was the Russian Federation , who made extraordinary efforts to ensure that the delivery took place yesterday. Now, this delivery as you know is in two parts. One part took place yesterday and it was vaccines and some nutrition for children but it is not complete and we are hoping that the next phase will take place quite shortly. It is all part of one convoy but it is divided into two.
Ultimately, what we are seeking is the removal of all sieges. I think this is absolutely necessary if we are able to have humanitarian access at the level that we want.
You are also aware that tomorrow the Security Council will be meeting on the issue of humanitarian access and the Special Envoy together with the Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs will be briefing the Council.
So this is where we are at that point, and Mr. Egeland, please.
UN Senior Adviser, Jan Egeland
Thank you very much Ramzy. May was a very bad month for us as humanitarian taskforce. We reached many fewer places and many fewer people than we did in March and April.
June can be, seems to become much better. Not only because we reached Darayya for the first time since 2012, since it was besieged, with the first limited humanitarian installment, but also because we actually plan to go to 11 besieged areas in the next few days, including back to Darayya with food, Moadameyah, again with food, five places in the east Ghouta area, for Kafr batna, and the three areas: Zabadin, Arbin and Zamalka, where we haven’t been yet.
So the number reached now is 14 out of 19 since the beginning of the year, in terms of reaching besieged areas. In the next days we could reach another three for the first time.
There is some misunderstanding of the first access to Darayya. It was there to do vaccination, which it successfully was able to do. It was there to provide some medical items, especially oriented to children, which it did. It was there to give nutritional elements asked by the mothers of Darayya. They said they needed baby milk that was rejected the last time.
It will however have to be the full convoy to follow up, and we have full hopes that will happen very soon. But it may not happen already tomorrow, which will be a disappointment that we have to wait another day.
We have added one more besieged area since the last meeting to our list. We now have 19 and this is Al-Wae’r. Al-Wae’r has 75,000 people and it is possibly the place with the worst nutritional situation of all the besieged areas. We need to reach al-Wae’r and we are trying in the next days. Our colleagues in the Red Crescent were able to deliver something over the last 48 hours.
Altogether, 592,000 people are now in besieged areas, and it is not a good sign that we have to add people to that list. But one of the reasons we are adding people to the list is that we are now getting access and we have better assessment of the situation in these areas.
I think I will leave it at that.
Questions and Answers:
Question: Why did the food convoy not get to Darayya yesterday and what assurances do you have that it will? And secondly can we have it clearly. Are there going to be airdrops starting or not?
Egeland: On Darayya, I can just say that the first mission went through exactly as planned and as expected, and I was relieved because it was rejected the previous time. It and it was thanks to the Russian intervention more than anything. That mission will be followed up by a food mission.
Ramzy: On the air drops, at this point in time as long as the World Food Programme has not yet finalized its plan, I don't think there is something eminent, but I think that the process that will lead to air drops has already started, so we just have to wait and see when it will be put into effect at the earliest possible date.
Egeland: Can I just clarify on the so called air drops. In an urban besieged area, it will have probably to be delivered by helicopters. We need space, a lot of open space, to be able to do air drops. We can do that in Deir ez-Zor. An air lift needs an airport. We will start air lifting into Hasaka area, and that is important because the Hasaka area in the North-East of Syria has had very little access of late. There will be air lifts to the airport in Kamishly.
Most of the places are dense urban areas, it would be helicopters and for that the World Food Programme would need air clearance from the government because they will use commercial companies.
Question: (inaudible)… it says “Starting June first if the UN is denied humanitarian access to any of these designated besieged areas, the ISSG calls on the WFP to immediately carry out a program for air bridges and air drops for all areas in need.” Well, today is June 2nd. You’ve had two weeks to prepare with WFP and you seem to be saying that WFP is still looking at it. Are we looking at a fig leaf – an empty promise – or an empty threat from the ISSG where it says that something will happen immediately but it is not happening immediately?
Ramzy: Well as you know both the WFP and the humanitarian taskforce are obliged to comply with the decision of the ministers. Now, as I said earlier this is a very complex venture and the WFP had been working very diligently on the issue. It involves, not only expense, it involves a lot of other issues including security and so forth and they are in the process of finalizing their plan. That’s all I can tell you. It doesn't say, I mean, very clearly the ISSG says that the WFP has to put a plan and start doing it. Now, it is one thing to say that we will implement it immediately but they have to ensure, as Mr. Egeland has said, it involves humanitarians, who need to be protected also. So it is a very complex thing and at the end of the day, to be able to carry out those air deliveries - it is not just air drops but air deliveries - you will need the consent of the government. I think this is quite clear and I think that members of the ISSG are working on that to ensure that it happens.
Question: There is no consent of the Government at the moment?
Ramzy: I’m not aware
Egeland: There are indications that we will have a much better approval for the June plan, than we had in the May plan. I think everybody agrees that to go by land with 100 tons in a few trucks is better than a few tons by helicopter. So, it’s good for the people if we can reach them by land, in some areas we have failed including in Darayya, which is the place that we believed we may not reach by now. There is more success possibly in these hours and the past days than in a long time. We will go by land, that is the way we can reach places. If we have to go by air delivery, World Food Programme an unharmed humanitarian organizations would need clearance by the government. If that is not there, then it is clearly a question for the member states of the ISSG.
Question: Why are you so optimistic this time? Why do you think you will better approval this month? What changed in your point of view that suddenly they changed their minds?
Egeleand: You know I have no guarantees of anything and I was also optimistic before May. But [in] the May plan [we] basically got a quarter of what we asked for was approved for May. So the signal was very bad. Now the signal is - and we need to get it in writing - that we will get a much better approval package to start with. Darayya, we were turned back the last time with the exact same convoy that went into Darayya. Darayya is very symbolic and important for both sides. We believe we will be able to also go there with food. The three areas that we go to next week, we already have approval to go to. The reason we didn't go there already was that we needed to speed up first to go to Darayya and Moadameyah that were in worse shape. So it seems we may actually have more approval rate and access than we had in the beginning of the work after the Munich meeting.
Question: Russia yesterday said that there was a convoy to Darayya so there is no rush or need to speak about the airlift now. Is there a risk that a measure that was thought to put pressure and improve humanitarian aid would turn and negative impact or be used by some members of ISSG to gain some time. And even worse, could that kind of measure split the members of the ISSG and impact negatively the way the taskforce is working?
Ramzy: Well I think, I’ve said earlier all members of the ISSG want increased access. They are aware that access by land is the most effective means, but air delivery remains an option, complementary and if need be, it will kick in at the right time. Now we are ready for that. WFP is working hard to finalize its plans and we hope that if there is enough land access why do we have to have air drops? But they have to be there. They are an option that is on the table and will be activated if we are not fully satisfied and the members of the ISSG are not satisfied it will be activated.
Egeland: Exactly and the Russians in the taskforce themselves today said that it is the food component that people are waiting most for in Darayya and that remains to be delivered. It is one package we only done the first and smaller part of it.
Question: Darayya. The next convoy was meant to go in tomorrow (inaudible). And the Russians, are they worried about security of the airdrops?
Egeland: Well, I am disappointed that we cannot confirm that the food convoy will go tomorrow. There are clear indications it will go within a very short period of time. We have been waiting for years for this. Another day is not the issue. The issue is that it needs to go through. And it is a clear test. We also need to have it approved. But it was a good thing to start with the items that were rejected the last time and that we did get through this time.
Ramzy: Yes, security is an issue for everyone. Every member of the ISSG is concerned about the security of the personnel who are undertaking any humanitarian delivery particularly air delivery. It is also an issue for the WFP and the UN in general. So, it is not just the Russians who are concerned about the security, quite frankly. It is an issue that has to be resolved in a way that allows this to go ahead. And as Jan said, the consent of the government is necessary to ensure the security. It might not be sufficient but there are other groups, scattered around Syria as you know, who may have the capability of rendering this operation rather dangerous. So these things have to be taken into account.
Egeland: The vaccination campaign is now threatened by the intense fighting in Idlib among other places. The land access and indeed, air access, is also threatened in many places because of the intense fighting. Some of the air drops even to Deir ez-Zor had to be postponed and frozen because of the fighting close to the drop zone recently.
In Darayya, we reckon there will be around 4,000 people only left at the moment but that is women, children, people in great need. The reason we were not able to go by land access is lack of government approval. Of the 19 areas, 16 are besieged by the government forces or government-aligned forces. So lack of approval is the main reason, but also fighting on the road, negotiating new roads, and negotiating security clearances by armed opposition groups is also delaying and making it difficult in many places. And that would also be difficult for helicopters if that will be the option. What we are talking about is the World Food Programme element of the decision of the ISSG. World Food Programme is a humanitarian organization guided by humanitarian principles. It is ordering commercial planes and helicopters. It wouldn’t even get insurance for this unless it had government approval. The member states of the ISSG may of course do what they want to. That is a question for them. We are now answering what about the humanitarians and the World Food Programme.
Follow up question inaudible
Egeland: World Food Programme. So, if land and air access would be denied, a new situation would arise and you would have to ask the members of the ISSG ‘what then?’