What's In Blue

Posted Wed 24 Feb 2021

Syria: Meeting on Humanitarian Developments

Tomorrow (25 February), Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is scheduled to brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria in an open videoconference (VTC). Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, will also brief the Council. A closed VTC is scheduled to follow.

Lowcock is likely to tell the Councill that the humanitarian environment in Syria remains dire, with continuing economic decline, insecurity, access restrictions, and winter weather all exacerbating an already precarious situation. According to a 17 February World Food Programme (WFP) statement, in the past twelve months, “food prices across Syria have soared” with the price of basic food items increasing year-on-year by 236 percent, while the price of oil has increased five-fold over the past year.

Lowcock is also likely to underscore that the continuing economic decline—marked by the plummeting Syrian pound and growing joblessness and caused, in part, by the worsening situation vis-à-vis COVID-19—are all contributing to Syrians’ inability to earn enough money to cover basic needs. This decline in income has, in turn, added to the numbers of Syrians who are considered food insecure. The 17 February WFP statement notes that, in the past year, an additional 4.5 million Syrians now suffer from food insecurity, making a total of 12.4 million Syrians—nearly 60 percent of the country’s population—food insecure. Most alarmingly, those considered “severely food insecure”, denoting those who cannot survive without assistance, now stands at 1.3 million people, a figure that has doubled in twelve months.

Syria’s difficult security situation, especially as it relates to the dangerous conditions facing humanitarian workers, may be raised in the meeting as well.  On 17 February, Mark Cutts, OCHA’s Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, issued a statement in response to the killing of a humanitarian worker by an explosion at a market in the town of Al-Bab in north-west Syria. The statement condemned the attack and noted that at least 14 humanitarian workers have been killed in north-west Syria in the last 14 months. These killings have been the result of airstrikes, shelling, improvised explosive devices, and car bombs, which have also killed dozens of civilians across many parts of Syria; on 31 January, for example, at least 24 people were killed as a result of two car bombs that were detonated in towns near the Syria-Turkey border.

Lowcock may highlight the fact that children are often disproportionately affected by the many humanitarian challenges in Syria. In Syria’s north-west, winter floods have affected over 67,000 internally displaced people, according to OCHA. Nearly 120 schools have been damaged by the flooding, affecting 21,000 children. At least 13 children have been killed and another 14 injured in incidents involving explosive weapons and unexploded ordnance across Syria so far this year. Meanwhile, food insecurity has caused an increase in acute and chronic malnutrition among children, while economic difficulties have contributed to a growing reliance on child labour, with one in ten Syrian families now depending on their children to contribute to family incomes in order to purchase food.

Council members may ask about the situation of children living at the Al Hol camp, a refugee and internally displaced persons camp in Syria’s north-east housing both victims and relatives of armed members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. According to the Secretary-General’s 18 February report, of the 62,000 people who remain at the camp, 94 percent are women and children, and 53 percent are children under the age of 12. These children face deteriorating humanitarian conditions, as recent violence in the camp has made the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the provision of other services difficult.

Finally, Council members expect to be updated by Lowcock on the fraught issue of humanitarian access through both cross-border deliveries via Turkey and cross-line deliveries via Damascus. According to the Secretary-General’s 18 February report, six cross-line road convoys took place in 2020, in addition to 13 airlifts into Syria’s north-east, which had until January 2020 been serviced through the border crossing point at Al-Yarubiyah, (The Al-Yarubiyah crossing is no longer authorised by the Council.) Despite these deliveries, the report cautions that needs remain high and have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the report highlights logistical and operational challenges in accessing Syria’s north-west with the closure of the Bab al-Salam crossing with the adoption of resolution 2533 on 11 July 2020. Lowcock is likely to echo the Secretary-General’s assessment that the “horrendous conditions caused by torrential rains and flooding in parts of the north-west demonstrate again that, even with the massive cross-border operation underway, we are still far short of meeting people’s needs”. “More access,” the Secretary-General’s report concludes, “is needed”.