What's In Blue

Posted Mon 21 Nov 2022

Syria: Informal Interactive Dialogue

This afternoon (21 November), Security Council members are expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on Syria. (IIDs are informal closed meetings which allow for the participation of non-Council members. There are no meeting records of IIDs and they are not included in the Council’s monthly programme of work.)

The meeting will be the second IID held in accordance with resolution 2642 of 12 July, which renewed the Syria cross-border aid mechanism for six months, with a further six-month extension subject to a new resolution. Adopted after difficult negotiations, this resolution encourages Security Council members to convene an IID every two months “with participation of donors, interested regional parties and representatives of the international humanitarian agencies operating in Syria”. The purpose of these IIDs is to review and follow up on the resolution’s implementation, including with regard to early recovery projects. The first such IID on Syria was convened on 26 September. (For background, see our 24 September What’s in Blue story.)

Today’s IID will feature a briefing by Tareq Talahma, OCHA’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Two other UN officials—Muhannad Ibrahim Ahmed Hadi, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis; and El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria—will also be on hand to respond to questions from Council members. Following the briefing, Syria will have the opportunity to make a brief intervention. Council members are then expected to make short statements, which may include specific questions for the briefers. Interested regional parties (Iran and Türkiye) and donors (Canada, Germany, Sweden, and the EU) will also make short interventions. Following the briefings and statements, the UN officials will have the opportunity to respond to the questions posed to them.

The briefers are likely to provide an update on the delivery of humanitarian aid in Syria, both cross-line (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control) and cross-border (through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the Syria-Türkiye border). In their briefings, they might refer to the cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid conducted on 22-23 October, with 18 trucks entering north-west Syria from Aleppo, carrying food, water, sanitation items, and other supplies for some 56,000 people. This was the eighth cross-line delivery since the adoption in July 2021 of resolution 2585, which encouraged efforts to improve such deliveries.

Progress on early recovery projects is likely to feature prominently in today’s discussion. The briefers may note that these projects—which are designed to increase access to basic services such as clean water, electricity, nutrition, health care and education—are critical to improving the humanitarian situation in the country. According to OCHA, such projects have been conducted in Syria’s 14 governates, supported by $517 million in donor assistance to date.

The briefers might also describe—and members may inquire about—the efforts of OCHA and other humanitarian actors to respond to the needs of vulnerable populations during the winter months. In her 25 October briefing to the Council, OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Reena Ghelani observed that the number of people who need winterisation assistance throughout Syria has risen by 30 percent this year compared with 2021. She referred specifically to the needs of women and children living in camps in north-west Syria “with limited or no access to heating, electricity, water or sewage disposal”.

In light of ongoing violence throughout Syria, members may also be interested in learning more about the effects of the fighting on the safety and security of people in need. As reflected by interventions during the Council’s 25 October meeting, several members have been especially concerned about violence in the north-west of the country, where the UN reported that, as at early November, at least 121 civilians had died and at least 210 were wounded as a result of this year’s fighting.

During today’s meeting, there may be discussion about the cholera outbreak in Syria, as well as the efforts to address the spread of the disease and treat those who have been infected. According to OCHA, between 25 August and 5 November, 35,569 suspected cases have been reported, including 92 fatalities.

As less than two months remain before the expiry of resolution 2642, the briefers and several members may highlight the importance of renewing the cross-border aid mechanism. This has been a controversial issue for several years. Most Council members emphasise the importance of aid delivery through both cross-line and cross-border modalities in Syria, while underscoring that the cross-border aid mechanism is essential to saving lives in the country. In contrast, China and Russia believe that cross-border deliveries are an extraordinary measure that undermines Syria’s sovereignty and should be supplanted by enhanced cross-line assistance as soon as possible.

At the 26 September IID on Syria, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths apparently underscored the importance of the cross-border aid mechanism and described progress being made with regard to cross-line aid deliveries and early recovery projects. He also reiterated his concern about the shortage of funds to support the humanitarian response in Syria. Griffiths and other OCHA officials discussed the recruitment and procurement challenges of implementing a six-month mandate, as opposed to a one-year mandate, for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism.

The Council’s next formal meeting on Syria will be the briefing scheduled for 29 November on political and humanitarian issues in the country.

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