Geneva, Switzerland

02 April 2020

Note to Correspondents: Statement attributable to Ms. Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, on COVID-19 in Syria

Ms. Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, convened the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) Humanitarian Task Force via video-conference today.

Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, joined through video-link and reiterated his appeal for a complete, immediate nationwide ceasefire throughout Syria to enable an all-out-effort to counter COVID-19 and spare all Syrians additional suffering. 

The Special Envoy expressed his readiness to work with all parties to the conflict to further his appeal. He acknowledged efforts to date of the Syrian Government and Syrian Opposition Coalition and other de facto authorities in areas outside government control for their efforts to respond to COVID-19. He saluted front-line humanitarian workers, and the doctors and nurses across Syria who are responding to COVID-19 at great risk to their own lives.

The UN humanitarian leadership in Syria and the UN regional hubs in Turkey and Jordan briefed HTF members on urgent humanitarian access needs. The World Health Organization briefed more specifically on emergency preparedness and response to the COVID-19.

HTF members were informed that the virus could have a devastating impact given the protracted crisis and the extensive destruction and damage to the health system. Syria’s public health system is fragile and will require considerable support to reinforce its capacity. Additional medical equipment, devices and supplies are urgently required to contain a potential outbreak.

Furthermore, 6 million internally displaced Syrians, including one million displaced in northwest Syria since 1 December, and 1.8 million in Damascus and rural Damascus, live in conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections.

HTF members were informed that, across the country, efforts are being accelerated to prepare laboratories and isolation wards and to raise awareness on mitigation and prevention measures.  Health facilities and selected intensive care units are being prepared and communities most at risk have been identified.

Ms. Rochdi stressed that the current situation is new and unlike any we have dealt with in Syria for the last 9 years. Humanitarian assistance has never been more critical for the entire country. All Syrians, and all those who provide assistance, are at risk. ISSG members were therefore urged to exert extensive efforts to ensure assistance and support can reach Syrians across the country as soon as possible.

Ms. Rochdi also reminded HTF members that it is critical to ensure that millions of Syrian refugees hosted by neighboring countries can also be assisted, especially those still living in overpopulated camps and informal settlements. It is absolutely critical to work cooperatively and move quickly.

Ms. Rochdi and the UN humanitarian leadership in the field further stressed the importance of maintaining border and in-country crossings for the shipment of relief items, including cross-border. The movement of humanitarian workers and those requiring urgent medical care is essential.

Finally, donor countries, including those who have imposed unilateral measures that can impair capacity response, were also urged to ensure that exemptions for medical care can be fully and immediately utilized and all obstacles put aside in this crisis.