Syria: Meeting under “Any Other Business”
This morning (22 February), following the meeting on Somalia, Security Council members are expected to hold a meeting on Syria under “any other business”. The US requested the meeting to discuss recent developments and the humanitarian situation in the country in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck south-east Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths is expected to brief.
This will be Council members’ fourth meeting on Syria since the 6 February earthquake. On 13 February, the Security Council held a private meeting, which was followed by closed consultations, to discuss the effects of the earthquake, at the request of Brazil and Switzerland (the co-penholders on the Syria humanitarian file). On 15 February, Security Council members held a meeting on Syria under “any other business” at the request of France. Additionally, on 16 February Council members held an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on Syria in line with resolution 2672 of 9 January, which confirmed the extension of the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism. (For more information, see our 13 February and 15 February What’s in Blue stories.)
Since Council members last met, Türkiye and northern Syria were hit by two additional earthquakes on 20 February, measuring 6.4 and 5.8 in magnitude. The epicentre of these earthquakes was in Türkiye’s Hatay province, which borders northern Syria. At today’s meeting, members will be interested in learning how these developments have affected the humanitarian situation and relief efforts in the country.
A 19 February OCHA flash update noted that more than 4,500 deaths and over 8,300 injuries had been reported in north-west Syria since 6 February. During a press briefing yesterday (21 February), OCHA’s Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi said that the 20 February earthquakes injured at least 195 civilians in Aleppo and Idlib according to initial assessments. These figures are likely to rise as numerous people remain trapped in the debris of collapsed buildings, while relief efforts are impeded by damaged infrastructure and limited access to some affected areas. These circumstances are being exacerbated by harsh winter conditions.
Mudawi further noted in her 21 February briefing that shelter, winterisation, and cash remain the top priority needs for displaced people, along with health care needs. According to OCHA’s 19 February flash update, at least 20 percent of 604 assessed communities do not have access to healthcare, particularly in the Badama and Harim sub-districts. In addition, 53 health facilities have been partially damaged and two health facilities have been fully damaged in north-west Syria, as at 19 February.
At today’s meeting, Griffiths is expected to describe recent efforts by the UN and other actors to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria, both cross-border and cross-line (that is, across domestic frontlines from Syrian government-held areas into areas outside government control). Under the authorisation provided by resolution 2672, humanitarian assistance is delivered to Syria from Türkiye via the Bab al-Hawa crossing without requiring the consent of the Syrian government. During the Council’s 13 February meeting Griffiths provided an update on the Syrian government’s decision to open two additional crossing points—Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee from Türkiye to north-west Syria—for an initial period of three months, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.
According to data provided by OCHA, a total of 265 trucks loaded with aid provided by six UN agencies have crossed to north-west Syria from Türkiye since 9 February: 210 using the Bab al-Hawa crossing, 45 across Bab al-Salam, and ten across Al Ra’ee. Council members may also wish to learn more about efforts being undertaken to intensify cross-line operations and coordination with the Syrian government to provide aid in non-government-controlled areas. Council members may also wish to learn more about the scale and reach of OCHA’s operations.
Griffiths is likely to call for more funding for the humanitarian response in Syria, including for the Secretary-General’s 14 February flash appeal, which seeks $397.6 million for the provision of humanitarian assistance to 4.9 million Syrians over a three-month period from February to May. The appeal complements the 2022-2023 Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), which estimates the projects to be implemented in 2023 at a value of $4.8 billion. At the time of writing, the flash appeal for Syria was 17.2 percent funded. According to OCHA’s 19 February flash update, the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) has received a pledged contribution of nearly $64 million, with paid contributions reaching a total of $2.1 million.
There may be discussion at today’s meeting regarding how the spread of cholera in Syria exacerbates the country’s humanitarian challenges. During yesterday’s press briefing, Mudawi noted that more than 47,000 cholera cases had been documented in north-west Syria since the outbreak was declared by the Syrian government in September 2022. She added that lack of access to quality drinking water and an overwhelmed health system remain the main challenges in addressing the cholera resurgence. In a 20 February press release, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned that a surge in cholera cases remains a significant possibility in the earthquake-affected areas in the coming weeks owing to limited access to clean water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities.
It seems that Council members hold divergent views about whether a Council product is needed to respond to the humanitarian crisis that has been exacerbated by the earthquakes. During the 13 February closed consultations, members apparently expressed opposing views, with some members calling for a resolution recognising the opening of the two additional border crossings and the need to monitor the delivery of humanitarian aid through these crossings. It seems that these members argued that such a resolution is necessary to ensure the predictable delivery of aid to affected areas. Other Council members apparently strongly opposed the idea of a Council resolution on the matter, emphasising the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It seems that other members indicated an interest in having further discussions on the issue. At the time of writing, however, it does not appear that a draft resolution is being discussed by Council members.
The co-penholders on the Syria humanitarian file apparently proposed a draft press statement on the situation in Syria following the 16 February IID. It seems, however, that Council members were unable to reach consensus on the text.