What's In Blue

Syria: Humanitarian Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (25 November), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos will present to the Council the Secretary-General’s latest report which identifies the trends in humanitarian access in Syria since resolution 2165 was adopted on 14 July (S/2014/840). The public briefing will be followed by consultations. The authorisation in resolution 2165 for cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access, including the monitoring mechanism, expires in early January 2015. It seems that Australia and Luxembourg, two leading Council members on the Syria humanitarian track, may be interested in renewing the authorisation in December before they rotate off the Council.

The civil war continues on its devastating course, and the escalating militarisation of the conflict has contributed to the continual deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria. Amos is expected to provide updated numbers of civilians impacted by the conflict at tomorrow’s briefing. When resolution 2165 was adopted in July, the death toll was 162,000 and is now conservatively estimated at 200,000. At that time there were 2.9 million refugees and 6.4 million internally displaced persons. Those numbers have since increased to 3.2 million and 7.6 million respectively. The number of those requiring humanitarian assistance is now 12.2 million, up from 10.8 million in July and those in hard-to-reach areas have increased from 4.7 million to 5 million in the same period.

Council members will be interested to hear from Amos if resolution 2165 has helped to ameliorate the humanitarian situation. Amos is likely to report that this resolution has enabled more aid to enter the country and for such aid to be more widely distributed. There have been 30 cross-border aid deliveries since resolution 2165 was adopted. Additionally, humanitarian assistance has entered more hard-to-reach locations as a direct result of not requiring the government’s consent for cross-border and cross-line access. Before resolution 2165, only 38 hard-to-reach areas could be accessed per month and that number has increased to 66. She is also expected to announce that the UN and its partners are planning to scale up deliveries in the weeks and months ahead.

Council members will also want to hear more about the challenges that have kept the UN and its partners from reaching more people in need. Amos is likely to report that because of the security situation only three of the four authorised border crossings are operational. Council members will likely want an update from Amos on the current status of one of these crossings, Bab al-Hawa on the Turkish border. There are reports that the Al-Qaida affiliated Al-Nusra Front has made significant gains near the crossing, putting in jeopardy one of the major conduits for humanitarian aid into Syria.

Amos is also likely to convey that the needs in Syria outpace resources, access to deliver available aid inside Syria is still severely constrained and that several key elements of resolutions 2139 and 2165 remain unimplemented. Cross-line deliveries are inherently difficult due to the security situation and the government’s use of administrative obstacles to slow aid delivery. Medical neutrality is not observed with the government withholding approvals, removing medical supplies from convoys, attacking medical facilities and the targeted killing of medical personnel. Armed opposition groups and terrorist groups shell civilian areas and block access to each other’s areas of control. Indiscriminate aerial bombardment by the government has been constant and since the US-led airstrikes began against ISIS in late September the Syrian military has dramatically ramped up its own air campaign against rebel-held areas. The report also notes that ISIS has responded to the strikes against it by spreading its fighters amongst populated areas.

Many Council members will be keen to hear Amos’s views on the humanitarian situation in Aleppo. Rebel-held Aleppo is of particular interest since Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura suggested to the Council it would be the first test of his plan for a UN-mediated “freeze zone”. President Bashar al-Assad said the plan was “worth studying”. However, Aleppo has been bombarded by the government almost daily for a year, and at press time, the government had cut off all but one route in and out of the city, foreshadowing the siege-and-starvation tactics it has employed in other areas, such as Homs. Amos is likely to echo the Secretary-General’s report and characterise de Mistura’s plan as an opportunity for a strategic de-escalation of violence. And while not directly related to the “freeze” plan, Amos may also report on discouraging developments that negotiations toward local agreements elsewhere have recently been halted.

The significant increase in aerial bombardment by the Syrian government has led several Council members, particularly the P3, Australia, Jordan, Lithuania and Luxembourg, to reiterate their view that, without underestimating the threat terrorist groups pose, the Assad regime remains responsible for the majority of violations in the conflict. These members have also continually expressed concern that there has been no progress in implementing any of the other key demands of resolution 2139 regarding human rights and protection of civilians, such as observing medical neutrality, ceasing aerial bombardments and easing administrative hurdles that slow or block humanitarian access.

Council members expect the Secretary-General’s report and Amos’s briefing tomorrow will be a key moment to assess the achievements of resolution 2165, and to discuss how to improve on those achievements while reiterating the need for full implementation of resolutions 2139 and 2165. It seems a significant majority of Council members are supportive of renewing the authorisations granted in resolution 2165 for a further period.

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