Lack of Humanitarian Access Affecting 2 Million People in Syria, Under-Secretary-General Tells Security Council
Upon Request, Office Released $16 Million, Sought to Add Staff, He Says
The 2 million people in northern rural Homs, Douma and southern Damascus were among the most desperate in Syria, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs told the Security Council today, adding that only six inter‑agency aid convoys had reached those areas this year.
“That is less than 20 per cent of the people we would like to be reaching,” said Mark Lowcock, as he presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2018/484) and detailed events throughout the country. Mr. Lowcock is also the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator
Turning first to eastern Ghouta, he said that after the Government had regained control of the area, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had responded to a request for assistance by releasing $16 million from the Syria Humanitarian Fund and seeking visas for additional staff. Over the past two months, local, national and international humanitarian organizations had been working in nearby areas hosting people displaced from eastern Ghouta, while the United Nations had provided food, water, shelter, medical services and protection.
Such collaboration must now extend into eastern Ghouta, but the United Nations had only received authorization to visit Saqba and Kafr Batna on 14 May, he said. During that visit, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs team had observed that some services had resumed, but huge unmet needs remained. A reported 10,000 people had returned to eastern Ghouta from rural Damascus over the past two weeks, and combined with the needs of 200,000 people thought to have remained in the area throughout the violence, access was critical, he emphasized, reiterating his request that the Government facilitate access.
In Afrin, where the humanitarian situation was highly complex, the United Nations continued to provide assistance, he continued. A recent needs assessment had found that most health facilities in rural areas remained closed and that medical personnel had fled. Expressing concern over reports that people were being prevented from leaving areas of displacement in Tal Refaat, he said Yarmouk camp and surrounding areas in southern Damascus, meanwhile, had seen fierce fighting. Humanitarian organizations had been unable to reach Yarmouk, he said, asking the Government to issue facilitation letters for an inter-agency aid convoy.
As for Rukban, he said discussions on how to safely deliver assistance there were continuing. Humanitarian agencies were working with Syrian authorities, United States, Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to reach agreement on a convoy. In Raqqa, the United Nations and its partners continued to provide aid, including monthly food rations and psychosocial support for children, but safety remained a serious concern due to explosive hazards.
He said the situation in Idlib was alarming amid air strikes, clashes between armed groups, overcrowding and severely stretched basic services. More than 80,000 newly displaced people had arrived in the area since March, many from northern rural Homs, where 35,000 people had been evacuated earlier this month. An inter-agency aid convoy — the first in more than two months — was due to leave for that area on 30 May with assistance for nearly 93,000 people, he added.
Describing violence against health-care personnel as a grim hallmark of the conflict, he said 92 attacks had been documented during the first four months of 2018 alone, he said, stressing that, despite such risks, United Nations humanitarian operations continued to save lives every day. He cited a nationwide immunization awareness campaign under which 325,000 children had been vaccinated against measles, as well as cross-border deliveries mandated under resolution 2393 (2017), which had provided food for 850,000 people. He pressed the Council to help ensure safe, unimpeded and sustained access “so we can help people like those in hard-to-reach areas who are in the greatest need”.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 10:20 a.m.