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OCHA tells Security Council situation remains dire in Syria

Ms. Edem Wosornu, OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy, on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths

Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria

Thank you, Mr. President.

The situation in Syria remains dire. Continued fighting and the displacement of tens of thousands of people have deepened humanitarian needs and compounded the suffering of civilians as they approach yet another winter under this conflict.  

Last month, I reported on the humanitarian impact of hostilities in the north-west: the most significant we have seen since 2019.

As Deputy Special Envoy Rochdi has just noted, these hostilities have continued over the past month, albeit at a lower intensity, causing further civilian deaths and injuries.

Allow me to shed some light on the situation. Over the past weekend alone, on 25 November, shelling in southern Idleb killed nine civilians – including one woman and six children from the same family – while they were harvesting olives on agricultural land.

In all, dozens of civilians have been killed and injured in the violence, and more than 120,000 people were displaced. While the majority have since managed to return to their homes, at least ten per cent remain displaced. Out of this, some 5,000 people are hosted in reception centres, while the rest are living in informal settlements.  

The impact on civilian facilities and critical infrastructure has been significant, with 40 health facilities, 27 schools and over 20 water systems affected by the violence.

Now moving on to the north-east, the uptick in hostilities that commenced in late August also continues, further displacing 25,000 people, who were already displaced.

And the violence has impacted multiple civilian facilities, including health centres and schools.

Parents are afraid to send their children to school, worried about their safety. This not only affects children’s education but also exposes them to risks to their safety and well-being. This includes gender-based violence, again as [Deputy Special Envoy] Najat [Roshdi] mentioned, violence against adolescent girls, child marriage and domestic violence.

Mr. President,

Attacks have also damaged power stations. The Alouk water station has not functioned since 5 October – I mention this in my last briefing. This has deprived a million people of access to water in Al Hasakah and neighboring areas, including the Al Hol camp.

I would like to remind all parties, once again, that constant care must be taken to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure. This entails taking all feasible precautions to avoid and minimize civilian harm when planning and deciding on attacks.
Meanwhile, crossings on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River remain closed, hampering the ability of people to access assistance, including health services.

Mr. President,

The United Nations remains committed to the principled delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in need throughout Syria, including in the north-west, where our cross-border operations remain a lifeline to more than four million people.

Earlier this month, the Government of Syria extended its consent for the United Nations to use the Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings to deliver aid from Türkiye for a period of three months, until 13 February 2024.

We welcome this extension.  

More than 20 per cent of trucks and nearly 50 per cent of missions by UN personnel going into the north-west since February have used these two crossings. They provide the quickest and most efficient route to reach people in need in northern Aleppo, where 20 per cent of displacement camps and informal sites are located.  

We continue our engagement with the Government of Syria to ensure that the delivery of cross-border assistance is principled, sustained and predictable.

Maintaining an independent and robust oversight mechanism at the border, in line with existing modalities, is essential.

The sheer scale of needs across the country underscores the urgency of scaling up the delivery of aid via all modalities.

We therefore continue our efforts to further expand the delivery of crossline assistance to key areas in the north-west and throughout Syria.

Mr. President,

The approaching winter is already exacerbating the suffering of displaced people, some 3.2 million of whom are located in Government areas. Again as referenced, women and girls, who make up 80 per cent of those in displacement camps and informal sites, continue to bear the brunt of this crisis.

A staggering 92 per cent of women-headed households in displacement camps in Syria report insufficient ability or complete inability to meet the basic needs of the family.

One of these women is Reem, the breadwinner for her family. “I have five children. We can’t even afford to eat. How can we survive this winter?” she recently told one of our colleagues. She cannot afford fuel for heating and clothes to keep her children warm.

Mr. President, Members of the Council,

The lack of protection against cold temperatures poses significant health risks, particularly for vulnerable segments of the population such as children and the elderly.

Our teams on the ground estimate that 5.7 million people across Syria need critical assistance to help them through the cold winter months. Inadequate shelter, lack of proper heating and insufficient clothing and household items are among their most pressing needs.

We, humanitarians, are doing what we can to meet and prioritize these needs. We have so far provided very little, a 100,000 people – some 26,000 families – with dignified shelters, with efforts ongoing to provide similar support to another 7,000 families, five [people] per family.

As you can see, we are facing a troubling and a significant 70 per cent shortfall in the funds required to deliver this vital support.

While we have mobilized some additional, with thanks to the generosity of donors who fund the OCHA pooled funds, without additional donor funding, we will not be able to meet the needs of many people and they will spend the entire winter exposed to the elements.

Mr. President,

These funding issues extend to the humanitarian response at large.

In September, the Council was informed that the Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria was 30 per cent funded.

The needle has barely moved since. The plan is only 33 per cent funded. We are grateful again for the generosity of donors, $1.8 billion received out of the $5.4 billion requested. Let me remind the Council that at this time last year we were 44 per cent funded. This time 33 [per cent].

Such low funding levels are unprecedented for a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude.

I cannot overstate the impact this lack of resources is having on our ability to meet the needs of millions of people in desperate need throughout Syria.  

2.5 million people no longer receive the food assistance they need. The number of those receiving food assistance decreased by 45 per cent, as earlier mentioned, after WFP cuts in June, from 5.5 to 3 million people.

2.3 million women of reproductive age are losing access to sexual and reproductive health services, including maternal health care. This is 10.4 per cent of the population.

Close to one million children under the age of five are not receiving routine immunizations.

Almost 6 million people are not receiving urgently needed nutritional assistance – 74 per cent of them women and girls. This includes 200,000 acutely malnourished children. 27 per cent of the population.

Hundreds of hospitals and health centers are being forced to close or scale down operations due to lack of funding.

And survivors of gender-based violence are losing access to the necessary support and health care, while prevention activities are being deprioritized to meet the most urgent, absolute needs.

Mr. President,

The people of Syria have suffered more than enough.

Yet this winter, humanitarians are being asked to prioritize one vulnerable life over another.

We are being forced to cut critical assistance programmes when there is little chance for the restoration of regular services.  

This is the stark reality of the current situation.

Mr. President, Members of the Council,

What we need is urgent funding to save lives and stem a further, catastrophic, deterioration in the humanitarian situation.

We need funding. We need it now.

We need sustained humanitarian access through all modalities, as well.

And, more than anything else, we need genuine progress towards an end to this conflict, without which it is simply impossible to stem the tide of vast humanitarian needs in Syria.

Thank you.

Source : OCHA