Syria Humanitarian Briefing
Tomorrow (29 November), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is expected to brief the Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The briefing will be followed by consultations.
The briefing takes place in the midst of significant Council activity on Syria. Yesterday (27 November), Steffan de Mistura briefed on political developments and emphasised the need for the parties to negotiate without preconditions in the current round of Geneva talks, which began today. He stated that “as ISIL is being defeated, neither side should turn their guns toward the de-escalation zones”. In late October and earlier this month, the Council was embroiled in divisive discussions regarding the mandate and work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). Ultimately, the Council failed to renew the JIM, which had been tasked with assigning responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
In tomorrow’s briefing, Lowcock is expected to convey his concern at the impact on civilians of the recent escalation of fighting in Eastern Ghouta, including the restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid there. According to OCHA, nearly 95% of Syria’s besieged population lives in this area. Since mid-November, attacks (including aerial bombardments and artillery fire) on Eastern Ghouta that have claimed the lives of scores of civilians have intensified. At yesterday’s consultations on political developments in Syria, several members expressed their concern at the violence in Eastern Ghouta, and some members called for the three ceasefire guarantors (Iran, Russia and Turkey) to ensure a ceasefire, as Eastern Ghouta is one of four de-escalation zones established in May. Reflecting this sentiment during a press encounter on 27 November, UK Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said “for all the talk of de-escalation zones, there is not a lot of de-escalating going on”. Earlier today, media reports indicated that Syria had agreed to a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta at the urging of Russia. If the ceasefire is confirmed, Council members will probably welcome it, while underscoring the need for it to hold and for restrictions on humanitarian assistance to be lifted.
Another issue that Lowcock will most likely raise is the importance of renewing the authorisation for cross-border aid delivery, which expires on 10 January 2018. OCHA has repeatedly stressed the vital role that cross-border aid delivery plays in Syria. Cross-line operations remain limited as a result of the removal of items, bureaucratic impediments imposed by the government, and insecurity that hinders access to besieged and hard-to-reach areas. However, through cross-border deliveries from Turkey and Jordan, which only require notifying the Syrian government in advance of each shipment, the UN and its partners have delivered health assistance sufficient for nearly 15 million treatments and, in the last two years, nearly one million people have received food assistance monthly. In his 16 November report on the humanitarian situation in Syria, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of preserving all possible means of humanitarian access, and reiterated his call for reauthorisation of cross-border access, stating that it is “a vital lifeline of assistance to those in need across northern and southern parts of the country” (S/2017/982).
Most Council members have underlined the vital role that cross-border authorisation has played in the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria. In recent months, however, Russia has expressed concerns that cross-border aid has been diverted to opposition forces. In response, OCHA reportedly said in last month’s consultations that there has been no evidence of greater diversion via cross-border than via other routes.
During consultations tomorrow, some members may emphasise the need for the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Syria to be protected from politicisation. They may underscore the importance of Council unity on an issue that is fundamentally about saving lives, especially in the context of the upcoming consideration of a resolution reauthorising cross-border humanitarian access.