Briefing and Consultations on the Syria Humanitarian Situation
Tomorrow (26 January), OCHA head Stephen O’Brien; Amir Mahmoud Abdulla, the Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme; and Peter Salama, the Executive Director of the World Health Organisation’s Emergencies Programme will brief the Council on the efforts and obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria, as described in the Secretary-General’s 19 January report (S/2017/58).
Despite the ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey in late December, and the talks held in Astana on 23-24 January in an attempt to consolidate that ceasefire, the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to be dire. Council members will be interested in O’Brien’s assessment of what is needed to ensure that the ceasefire, in addition to improving the overall security situation, can be translated into better humanitarian access.
Council members might be interested in the efforts by the UN and its humanitarian partners to address the needs of those returning to eastern Aleppo given the destruction of infrastructure, the lack of basic services and the presence of unexploded ordnance. They are also expected to pay attention to the situation of over 116,000 people who were evacuated from eastern Aleppo and the impact of their displacement in the communities where they were relocated. The situation in Wadi Barada, which has severely restricted the flow of water to Damascus since late December 2016, is also expected to feature in tomorrow’s briefing.
Council members expect that during tomorrow’s briefing many of the issues covered in a 16 January joint statement by the heads of OCHA, World Food Programme, World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will be discussed. O’Brien is likely to continue his monthly appeal to Council members to use their influence with the parties to the conflict to secure immediate, unconditional and safe access for the UN and its implementing partners to reach those still cut off from humanitarian aid across the country. According to the statement, there are 15 besieged areas where up to 700,000 people, including an estimated 300,000 children, remain trapped, overwhelmingly by government forces or government-allied militias. Nearly five million people, including more than two million children, live in areas that are extremely difficult to reach with humanitarian assistance due to fighting, insecurity and restricted access. Among other issues, Abdulla will probably describe the challenges to get humanitarian aid to Deir ez-Zor following the 15 January capture by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant of the drop zone for humanitarian supplies, including food, interrupting the town’s only lifeline.
O’Brien is likely to reiterate that bureaucratic delays imposed by the government continue to limit the ability of the UN to reach those most in need, including civilians in besieged or hard-to-reach locations. In December 2016, the UN reached less than one per cent of beneficiaries included in the monthly inter-agency convoy plan. So far, there has only been one delivery in January, despite the improvement in the security situation. O’Brien may provide ideas on how the approval process could be simplified.
Council members will be interested in discussing the commitment made by Turkey and Russia, joined by Iran, in a joint communiqué at the end of the Astana talks to seek and ensure, through concrete steps and using their influence over the parties, unhindered humanitarian access. In the consultations that will follow tomorrow’s briefing, Council members may want more information from Russia about how the three guarantor countries are planning to operationalise this commitment in light of the obstacles described by the Secretary-General in his report.
It is unlikely that Council members will have another discussion about the findings of the UN Board on Inquiry on the 19 September 2016 attack on a humanitarian convoy outside of Aleppo. Egypt, New Zealand and Spain proposed a draft press statement addressing the Board’s findings during the 23 December humanitarian consultations, but it was blocked by Russia which argued that the Board’s report only offered speculation and no concrete conclusions.
Some Council members hope to avoid the politicisation of the discussion of humanitarian issues on Syria. Given the fact that this is the only Syria meeting which routinely happens in the open chamber, it has been used to express the position of Council members on issues that are not purely related to the humanitarian situation
Next week, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura is expected to brief Council members on the outcome of the Astana talks and the preparations for the UN-facilitated Geneva talks scheduled for 8 February.