I make this statement on behalf of the co-penholders of the Syrian humanitarian file, Norway and Ireland. We would like to thank Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Mark Lowcock and Special Envoy Geir Pedersen for their briefings we have just heard.
We have heard the plain facts from Mark Lowcock just now and we have heard from the Secretary General on the immense scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and the critical role of humanitarian operations in alleviating this needs. Nine in ten Syrians now live in poverty, with 60 per cent of the population at risk of going hungry this year. These are the worst numbers in the history of the Syrian conflict.
In spite of the fragile ceasefire in parts of Syria, violence continues to cause deaths and injuries to civilians, including children and humanitarian workers.
We note with great concern the appalling abuses outlined in the Secretary General report on Children and Armed Conflict in Syria, and condemn the reports of grave violations against children.
As humanitarian co-penholders, we are notably concerned with the alarming reports of 137 verified incidents of denials of humanitarian access, including 49 attacks on humanitarian facilities, personnel and transports; 46 attacks on water facilities; and 42 instances of deliberate denial of humanitarian access.
We condemn the recent killing of two humanitarian workers in an armed attack in south-east rural Deir-Ez-Zor. This underlines once again the obligation on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law. We also urge all parties to heed the call of the Secretary General for an immediate ceasefire and end to hostilities.
COVID 19 has exacerbated the suffering of the Syrian people, and we are especially concerned about the impact on vulnerable people living in densely populated camps with minimal access to essential health services. Hundreds of health facilities have been attacked and destroyed over the course of the conflict, leaving the country ill equipped to cope with the surging toll of covid cases. We welcome the allocation of vaccines to Syria through COVAX, as well as the plans in place to distribute these vaccines during 2021.
Humanitarian needs are particularly acute in the North West, where 3.4 million people are in need. This is 21 per cent more than last year.
Ireland and Norway’s position is clear: we support any and every modality which will ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need.
We fully support all efforts to put in place a cross-line support mission to North-Western Syria. We call on all parties to engage constructively and in a spirit of compromise to ensure this important mission can proceed.
We must be clear however, that the size and scope of the UN cross-border operation required to meet the vast scale of humanitarian need cannot currently be replicated by cross line convoys.
The UN-mandated cross border operation in North West Syria reaches almost 85 per cent of people in need every month. Without this sustained and predictable access, civilian suffering in the north-west would rise to levels not seen in ten years of conflict, further driving the level of instability in Syria and the region.
Furthermore, many NGO operations rely on UN operational support for logistics and procurement. Access to life-saving items, such as COVID-19 vaccines, is directly dependent on this operation. Finally, it is worth noting that the UN cross border operation is one of the most heavily scrutinized and monitored aid operations in the world. The UN Monitoring Mechanism guarantees the humanitarian nature of all deliveries, and ensures a robust humanitarian operation based on transparency and accountability.
For these reasons, the provision of UN support through the border crossing at Bab al Hawa, as a minimum, must continue. The immense humanitarian needs clearly demonstrate that Security Council resolution 2533 must be renewed.
Without the vital humanitarian assistance channelled through Bab al Hawa, efforts to reduce hunger, build resilience, and ensure access to health care will falter and fail. People are worse off now than ten months ago when the previous cross-border resolution was negotiated, including in the Northeast after the closure of Al Yarubiyah.
In addition, while we welcome the initial delivery of COVAX vaccines in Syria, without sustained access to critical supplies Covid 19 will continue to spread within Syria and beyond its borders. And more lives will be lost.
We must all work together to prevent such a catastrophe.
As humanitarian penholders, Norway and Ireland will continue to support all efforts to ensure that humanitarian assistance continues to reach all those in need in Syria. We will work closely with all of you on the Council in support of that objective.