Syria: Private Meeting and Closed Consultations
This afternoon (13 February), the Security Council will hold a private meeting, followed by closed consultations, to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck south-east Türkiye and north Syria on 6 February. Brazil and Switzerland, the co-penholders on the Syria humanitarian file, requested the meeting. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths is expected to brief on his recent visit to earthquake-affected areas in Türkiye and Syria. It seems that OCHA Director of Operations and Advocacy Ghada Eltahir Mudawi will be on hand to answer questions. Türkiye and Syria are expected to participate in the private meeting.
The epicentre of the earthquake was in Türkiye’s Gaziantep province and is believed to be the strongest to hit Türkiye since 1939. The earthquake was followed by powerful aftershocks in the ensuing days across the region, including one measuring 7.5 magnitude just nine hours after the initial earthquake. At the time of writing, the earthquake has caused more than 30,000 deaths and has injured tens of thousands across Türkiye and Syria, according to media reports.
The humanitarian situation in Syria was already dire prior to the earthquake because of ongoing conflict, deteriorating socio-economic conditions marked by rising food and fuel prices, and a cholera outbreak. During an 8 February press briefing, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for Syria El-Mostafa Benlamlih noted that 10.9 million people in Syria have been affected by the earthquake in the north-western governorates of Hama, Latakia, Idlib, Aleppo, and Tartus. According to OCHA’s 12 February flash update, more than 4,300 deaths and 7,600 injuries have been reported in north-west Syria. Both 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. Benlamlih warned at the 8 February press briefing that cholera cases may also rise owing to the disrupted access to safe water and sanitation, along with overcrowding.
In an 11 February tweet, Griffiths called for international support to address the pressing humanitarian needs in the region. He visited the Türkiye-Syria border on 12 February and in a tweet said that the international community has failed the people in north-west Syria, who are “looking for international help that has not arrived”.
At today’s meeting, Griffiths is expected to provide an update on the earthquake’s effects on the UN’s humanitarian operations, including those mandated by resolution 2672 of 9 January, which confirmed the extension of the authorisation for the Syria cross-border aid mechanism until 10 July. (Through this mechanism, humanitarian assistance is delivered to Syria from Türkiye via the Bab al-Hawa crossing without requiring the consent of the Syrian government.) During the 8 February press briefing, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Muhannad Hadi noted that cross-border aid operations had been halted for several days owing to damage incurred to roads connecting Gaziantep to the UN trans-shipment hub in Hatay province, where the aid is monitored and verified before crossing into Syria.
Griffiths may 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). He is likely to mention that the UN’s cross-border operations resumed on 9 February. Since then, a total of 52 trucks loaded with aid provided by five UN agencies have crossed into north-west Syria, according to OCHA’s 12 February flash update. Council members may 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 wish to engage in a frank exchange with Griffiths to gain a detailed understanding of the situation on the ground and the rising humanitarian needs. Griffiths and Council members are likely to discuss strategies for facilitating continued flow of humanitarian aid to those in need, securing the required levels of funding and aid, providing shelter for those who have lost their homes, addressing food insecurity, providing needed medical assistance, and creating sanitary conditions.
The international community has mobilised support in the past days to address the myriad of new and ongoing humanitarian challenges emanating from the earthquake. Emergency teams and relief operations have been deployed by UN agencies and member states in the earthquake-stricken parts of Syria. At the time of writing, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $50 million for boosting humanitarian aid in the region. According to OCHA’s 12 February flash update, the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) has received a pledged contribution of nearly $50 million from several member states including France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the US. A whole-of-Syria flash appeal is expected to be released over the coming days that would map gaps, needs, and financial requirements for an initial period of three months.
Some Council members are expected to emphasise the need for the Council to authorise additional crossings on the Türkiye-Syria border, to facilitate the expeditious and predictable flow of humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable areas in Syria. In an interview with MSNBC reported on 9 February, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) noted that the US is interested in the adoption of a Council resolution that would “open another one or two” border crossings. In an interview with CNN reported on 11 February, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) António Vitorino noted that only five percent of the sites in north-west Syria struck by the earthquake have been the object of rescue operations. He added that opening more cross-border points is fundamental for the success of the relief operations.
During a 9 February press encounter, Secretary-General António Guterres called for exploring “all possible avenues to get aid and personnel into all affected areas”. He noted that many non-UN relief agencies are delivering aid through other crossings, adding that he would be “very happy if in relation to the UN, there will be the possibility to do it also in as many crossings as possible”.
At a 9 February media stakeout following a meeting of the Syria Humanitarian Task Force, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen underlined the need to ensure that “there are no impediments whatsoever to deliver life-saving support that is needed in Syria”. In this regard, he affirmed that the EU and the US have committed to eliminating any hindrance to the provision of aid to the Syrian people. According to OCHA’s 10 February flash update, the US Treasury Department on 9 February had issued a six-month license to allow earthquake-related relief which would otherwise be prohibited by sanctions on Syria. The license authorises the “processing or transfer of funds on behalf of third-country persons to or from Syria in support of the transactions” relating to earthquake relief. The 10 February flash update also took note of the decree issued by the Syrian government whereby it has established a national fund for the rehabilitation of affected areas in Aleppo, Lattakia, Hama, and Idlib, including cross-line support in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and UN agencies.