21 July 2016

Note to Correspondents: Near Verbatim transcript of stakeout by UN Senior Adviser Jan Egeland

Jan Egeland (JE).: We have now been working in the Humanitarian Taskforce of the ISSG since mid-February, about five months. When we take stock after this first half year, this year, we see that we [the UN] have now reached 1 million people, in hard to reach areas and in besieged areas. We have reached 400,000 of the 590,000 people inside the besieged areas, at least once in the course of these five months.

We have had 76 air drops to Deir ez-Zor, the air lifts to Qamishly in Hasakah is now working well, there has been 16 airlift operations.

Altogether 100 convoys have been able to reach besieged and hard to reach areas, so far, in 2016. That is compared to only 45 convoys in the whole of 2015, but of course 2015 was so bad that people were starving to death when we started our work at the beginning of this year.

We have reached 18 out of 18 areas, so of course there has been noticeable progress because the diplomats have helped us in 2016 and they didn't not really help us that much in 2015 at all.

However, it is far from what we have had hoped and planned for the month of July and June and it is paradoxical for July that we haven’t been able to reach more than 3 of the 18 besieged areas by the 20th of July, given that July was the best month ever in terms of permissions granted by the government, we were actually granted permission to go to all of the besieged areas.

So what is holding us back? The fighting is the main reason for why we are not going to all of these places. The four towns hasn't had relief, neither Madaya and Zabadani that are besieged by Hezbollah and government forces, nor Fouah and Kefraya, that are besieged by armed opposition groups, they haven’t had a UN convoy or a Red Cross/Red Crescent convoy since the 30th of April. Which means that mothers have no food anymore to give to the children in Madaya or elsewhere. Madaya is of course symbolically important for us, because that was the place where children were starving when we started our work. So we were so happy to see that there was big and noticeable difference by the progress we had in February, March and April.

We need to regain momentum. What does it take to regain momentum? Well it would be humanitarian pauses, truces. A humanitarian truce could work in the following manner. We get 72-hour notice to go and we get a pause in the fighting for 48 hours, that's what we need, that is what it takes to have a lifeline to places where people are at the brink of starvation.

Eastern Aleppo has become such a place. The road became impossible on the 7th of July. The clock is ticking. There are a few weeks of supplies inside by our estimation. We did reach eastern Aleppo with supplies in June, and there has been supplies both cross-border from Turkey, and cross-line from within Syria.
The homework we have given as humanitarians to the co-chairs, which are the United States and Russia, and to other members of the ISSG is the following: give us 48 hours every week to be able to go to eastern Aleppo where there is a quarter of a million civilians and they have no other lifeline than this Castello road, and that we can get in cross border, NGOs and UN and cross line, UN, Red Cross and Red Crescent.

I hope we could have the same humanitarian pause now for the Four Towns. The four towns agreement is not working, it has actually collapsed, it was something negotiated at the initiative of Iran and Ahrar al-Sham which is the main armed opposition group, and it is a tit-for-tat agreement and when there is now bombing and shelling on both sides, there is no agreement and there is no supplies.

So again, in the absence of a general cessation of hostilities, that we hope and pray for, for all of Syria, give us at least these 48 hours’ windows of opportunity to provide for the civilians that are suffering so much in these areas.

Humanitarian convoys are ready, humanitarian workers are ready, we have the supplies, we need the break, the pause in the fighting. Thank you

Q. Could you tell us please about the situation in terms of how much supplies, how many people are in Madaya, if that is the worst of the four towns, I mean how long can it last? And also about Aleppo, I realize this will be subject to agreement, but is it a possible case that could benefit from air drops or air lifts if the Syrian government were to give its agreement?
JE: Again we do not rule out anything. Air delivery can happen in many ways, it can be airdrops, but usually not airdrops to urban areas, because you may hit as many people as you help if you drop in areas where there is not a lot of space. But it could be also delivered by helicopters, you know we have been discussing that now for other areas.

But it is a quarter of a million people in eastern Aleppo it has to be a massive relief operation that is also why we need 48 hours truces. The roads cannot take the large trucks, they need to have smaller trucks, the only way is really a sustained land and regular operation to so many people and it can happen. We are hopeful that in terms of diplomatic activities will lead to access to Eastern Aleppo both cross border and cross line.

For Madaya, there is 40,000 people, it is a place where supplies have now been exhausted basically. They got a one month ration on the 30th of April. So if you go down to a very meagre diet, how long does a one month ration last? Not for many months, and we are now over time. It is also bad in Fouah and Kefraya, which are besieged by armed opposition groups, but Madaya is an urban area, you cannot grow anything there. A mother in Madaya has no food for children, I think this is the best way of saying it.

Q. Did anything emerge from the latest round of Kerry-Lavrov talks that offered you any grounds for expecting new initiatives or progress on the humanitarian delivery and specifically was the issue of the 48-hour window, was that discussed in Moscow?
JE: I was not [inaudible] to the talks between the two foreign ministers but there is intensive diplomatic activity on many levels now.

Staffan de Mistura is in Ankara, he will be here next week to report on a number of diplomatic missions that he is having and he has also worked with the co-chairs.
The homework that we have tried to give now to the co-chairs and the ISSG could not be clearer: we need these humanitarian pauses to avoid a catastrophe, and we still have time to avoid it.

You will remember that there was a period when we didn't get permission to go anywhere nearly, and if we got permission we were always quarrelling with the government how many beneficiaries were in the place, could we go with the full package or only part of the package, and in some places they said only school books or only vaccinations and no food, or vice-versa. Now we basically have permission to go. We need pause in the fighting. The fighting is preventing us from going or the lack of agreement between the parties which is paralyzing the Four Towns agreement.

Q. Just if you can tell us about the cross-border supplies from Turkey if they were affected because of the situation in Turkey right now.
JE: The cross-border supplies from Turkey, in general, well there is cross-border supplies from Turkey going in to the northern areas. There is a large courageous and often unrecognized operation from cross-border from Turkey and other countries by Non-Governmental Organizations. And they have been the lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people in these last three years.

We have been very concerned that there is no border crossings working for the Hasaka region from Turkey; that is why we have started this airbridge to Qamishliy which is one of the towns in Hasaka [governorate]. In general, I would say that from all of the borders it has been more difficult to do cross- border this year, and that happens at the same time as there is more people are coming to the borders because they feel it is been unbearable their life inside Syria.

Q. Just a follow-up on the last question, what has been the impact of the Coup in Turkey, the failed Coup, on possible deliveries? Have you noticed any difference in terms of movements across the border since then, and if I could follow-up on what you said earlier, you mentioned that you have the authorizations you need but the fighting is preventing you. How many of those cases are government initiated fighting, I mean the government on one hand says we give you the authorizations and then they know as fighting is there you will not be able to deliver them, how many in this cases are government initiated?
JE: 15 of the 18 places are government besieged places, besieged by government or allied forces like Hezbollah. One of the besieged areas [inaudible], Deir ez-Zor, is now covered by air drops.

We have progress in some places, you will remember, it changes all the time, it is very very fluid combat zone we are now facing. Al-Waer was one of my greatest worries, I think it was a month ago I was telling you, that Al-Waer is the place I would consider the worst. Al-Waer had two convoys in July. It is easy to go to Al-Waer, but we cannot go to Darayya where there is fighting. We could not either go to Douma where there was fighting, in this case the security forces did not allow us to go when we were ready to go at one point, and when we were able to go there was bombing.

If it is bombing from the air of course then it is generally government or international planes, but a lot of the fighting on the ground is cross-fire and it is very hard for the humanitarians to say who is to blame. There could be several reasons. In the Four Towns there was the bombing of Idlib, there was shelling of Fouah and Kefraya, and one thing leads to the other.

We have seen no change of the situation in and from Turkey that I know of. In terms of discussions about how to help the 100,000 people in the so called Berm at the Syrian-Jordanian border and we are hopeful that we will be able to supply them with food and other necessities soon, either from within Syria or from Jordan.

Q. Can you give us a recap how many people were reached in the last week from last Thursday till today in Syria by the humanitarian convoys and what was the message Mr. de Mistura brought back to the ISSG meeting given he met with Mr. Kerry in London on Monday to get debriefed on the Russia/US talks. Thank you
JE: Well, Staffan de Mistura is in Ankara today, I spoke with him this morning, he has important talks there today. But I am not able to provide more information on his talks. The last week we were able to complete the support for Al-Waer, that 75,000 people, that is why we are now have reached more than 400,000 people and more than two thirds of the besieged areas have now been reached in terms of people. There is a large number of people in Al-Waer.
We also were able today to reach this Madiq Castle, which is an area where we had to negotiate with both government and with armed opposition groups, we were able to go there today and there is [assistance for] 32,000 people there. And there has also been a number of hard to reach areas, reached, altogether how many people in the last week, I don't know, it is a high number of people but there are too few locations, we had much higher ambitions, we were planning to reach more than one million people in July, as such, we are very far from that, we have only reached 24% of the people in the besieged areas this month, one quarter of the 590,000 have got assistance so far in July.

Could I say as I end, we also review the funding levels for Syria. And we still have only 26% of the total funding required for the Syrian humanitarian response plan. So just over quarter of the 3.2 billion dollars have been committed to our appeals. So two problems, donors are sitting on their month too long before they send it [report] and the other one is that the humanitarian actors are not reporting so that's why there are a number of areas which had 10% help, only 26% of the appeal is now covered in our books, that makes planning very difficult. So that's again homework to all these ISSG members, including those who organized the very successful London conference, is: we need to have money committed to be able to plan really for this enormous humanitarian operation that seeks to meet the needs of many millions of people, beyond the besieged areas.
Thank you