I make this statement on behalf of the co-penholders of the Syrian humanitarian file, Ireland and Norway. We would like to thank Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, Executive Director Henrietta Fore and Dr Amani Ballour. Dr Ballour, we thank you for your courage over many challenging years and we thank you for sharing your powerful story with us here today.
This month we mark ten years of conflict in Syria. A decade of loss and suffering it is hard to comprehend. The cost for the people of Syria has been staggering.
This morning I spoke with ICRC President Peter Maurer, who has just returned from the country. He conveyed some sense of the hopelessness of a country facing possibly its worst humanitarian situation yet.
This Council and the international community have sadly failed to protect civilians from the nightmare of this terrible conflict. At the same time, we have witnessed one of the largest humanitarian responses the world has ever seen. Tomorrow, the UN and the EU will host the 5th Brussels conference on the future of Syria. The conference will again reaffirm the international community’s extraordinary support and solidarity with the people of Syria.
However, the reality is that despite all efforts, overall humanitarian needs continue to increase, and are now greater than at any previous point of this conflict.
Today, over 13 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance. That includes 5 million children, who have never known anything but conflict.
Violence continues to claim civilian lives in Syria. Last week artillery shell attacks on a hospital in Atareb in Aleppo killed 7 people including two cousins; a 10-year old and a 12-year old boy. More than a dozen civilians were injured, including 5 medical staff. On the same day, there were multiple airstrikes near Bab al Hawa on the Syria-Turkey border, where life-saving UN cross-border humanitarian deliveries take place. 24 trucks used for the transport of humanitarian supplies were destroyed or damaged.
And improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including vehicle-borne IEDs and explosive remnants of war, are still causing numerous civilian casualties. We support the Secretary-General’s Independent Senior Advisory Panel on Syria Humanitarian Deconfliction System in their efforts to strengthen the deconfliction mechanism.
We would also like to echo the Secretary-General’s statement that direct attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical units such as hospitals, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.
The fragile ceasefire that has broadly held in parts of Syria over the past few years has not provided peace for these civilians or their loved ones. There is a need for a lasting, nationwide ceasefire.
The accelerating depreciation of the Syrian pound continues to spur concerns over additional food price increases and subsequent further deterioration of the food security situation. Indicators across Syria show a sustained deterioration over the first two months of 2021. There is now a very real prospect of hunger in parts of Syria. As the Secretary-General forcefully argued before the Council earlier this month: if you don’t feed people, you feed conflict.
International humanitarian law, reinforced by unanimously adopted Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2417, prohibits parties to a conflict from depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival – including food, crops, livestock, and water installations. Humanitarian access must be unimpeded, and the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited.
We, the international community, pledged to prevent a lost generation in Syria. Syrian children, however, have largely not been able to realise their right to an education and to a childhood. 2.5 million children are out of school, and their future is uncertain. Too many schools have been damaged or destroyed, or used as shelter for displaced families or even for military purposes. Many children have left school to help their families survive. This is the generation that will one day be tasked with rebuilding the country.
To address these needs, all the strategic objectives of the Humanitarian Response Plan must be fulfilled. Life-saving and life-sustaining humanitarian assistance is essential. Humanitarian resilience activities are needed, such as transport of water and protection of water sources, and these must be carried out in full accordance with humanitarian principles and based solely on need.
The COVID-19 situation continues to be very unpredictable. The anticipated first delivery of vaccines through COVAX will be a step forward in our fight to combat the pandemic. We reiterate the Council’s repeated demands that all parties allow unimpeded humanitarian access and uphold ceasefires to enable medical humanitarian teams to safely roll-out COVID-19 vaccinations to those who need it the most.
We are very concerned by the Secretary-General’s report that the parties to the conflict continue to target humanitarian and healthcare personnel and services. We therefore also call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law. Health workers are not a target.
The UN and its humanitarian partners need rapid, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access to all of Syria. As the Secretary-General recently stated, and as we have heard USG Lowcock reiterate today, greater access is needed.
As long as the situation on the ground is as it is, intensified cross-line and cross-border deliveries are essential to reach everyone in need everywhere, including for the purpose of COVID-19 vaccination.
Responding to the humanitarian needs of the more than 3 million civilians in northwestern Syria requires the continued provision of UN support through the border crossing at Bab al Hawa. This cross-border access is essential to reduce hunger, ensure access to health care, and implement efforts to contain COVID 19. Without this life-saving humanitarian assistance, lives will be lost.
We fully support the UN’s efforts to put in place a cross-line support mission to North-Western Syria and we call on all parties to facilitate this without further delay. Cross-line operations providing aid across the front line in Idleb have the potential to complement cross-border operations. However, in light of the overwhelming humanitarian needs, such cross-line missions cannot be expected to supplant the cross-border operation at Bab al Hawa. There is currently no viable way to replace the 4,369 trucks that have crossed the border bringing life-saving support over the past eight months. We need all modalities for humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.
Before concluding, let me also add a small note in my national capacity: tomorrow at the Brussels conference, Norway will pledge a further minimum of USD 190 million in support to Syria and the region this year, reaffirming our position as one of the largest donors to the international response.
In closing, when speaking to partners on the ground they have one message to convey: the Syrian people need hope for a better future.
For a decade, Syrian children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters have borne the brunt of the failure to end the conflict. They continue to experience first-hand the suffering caused by years of protracted conflict and resulting humanitarian emergencies, compounded by impeded access for humanitarian aid.
We give our full support to the UN-led efforts to find a political solution. We know that progress on the political track is the key to improving the situation on the ground.
This Council must exercise its responsibility to do its utmost to bring the suffering of the Syrian people to an end.