The United Nations humanitarian chief today urged the Security Council to do everything in its power to push for a political solution to end the conflict in Syria, as he described the immense suffering and destruction he witnessed for himself during a recent visit.
“It is difficult to find words that would justly describe the depth of suffering that the Syrians face on a daily basis. Having just returned from the country, I have seen a glimpse of this grim reality myself,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien.
“I left the country deeply saddened and outraged,” he continued. “The needless and immense suffering of ordinary Syrians and the abhorrent destruction this conflict has wrought on the country. I am angry, because we as the international community are not allowed and are not able to do more to protect Syrians who more than ever need our unfaltering support.”
During his three-day visit earlier this month, Mr. O’Brien discussed with senior Government representatives the need to strengthen protection of civilians and the overall humanitarian response.
“I urged the Government to grant full and unhindered access to all people in need, wherever they may be located. It is my sincere hope that the necessary steps will be taken towards improving access, including approving requests for inter-agency and agency convoys.”
Since the conflict began over four years ago, more than a quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria and over a million people injured, Mr. O’Brien noted in his briefing to the 15-member body. Some 7.6 million people have been displaced inside the country. Over one million people have had to leave their homes this year alone.
Over four million people have fled across borders in a desperate search for survival and a future, placing host countries and communities under pressure which is now stretched to breaking point.
“We may all be living on borrowed time. In the name of both security as well as humanity, we do need to find a better, more sustainable way forward for the wider international community to share the burden in hosting Syrian refugees.”
He reported that, over the past month, violence has continued to escalate across the country. Indiscriminate and targeted attacks by all parties to the conflict have resulted in loss of life, destruction of infrastructure; and access to basic services such as water, has been denied to hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
“The parties’ callous disregard for human life and basic survival seemingly knows no bounds.”
Despite the increasingly challenging environment, millions of people continue to receive lifesaving assistance using all available modalities, including across borders, Mr. O’Brien stated.
During the first half of 2015, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations provided food assistance for 5.9 million people on average per month; medicine and supplies for 9 million people; water and sanitation support for over five million people; and basic relief items for more than four million people.
“While these numbers are significant, I regret to say that many more could be reached should unimpeded access be allowed,” Mr. O’Brien said, voicing particular concern about the severely limited access to the 4.6 million people living in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.
During the first half of 2015, the UN only reached 12 per cent of people in hard-to-reach areas with food each month and 3.4 per cent with health supplies, indicating major access challenges which limit the humanitarian community’s ability to reach the most vulnerable and affected people in Syria.
Similarly, parties to the conflict continue to heavily restrict access to besieged areas, Mr. O’Brien reported. The UN managed to reach less than 1 per cent with food and non-food items each month and 2 per cent with health supplies each month during the first half of this year. In July, no food or other type of humanitarian assistance by the UN reached any besieged areas through official routes where some 422,000 people are located.
The UN humanitarian chief said he came away from his visit to Syria “determined not to give up, not to be exasperated by the relentless repetitiveness of the challenges we as humanitarians face, and the need to explore every avenue to do everything possible to provide life-saving aid and protection to the people in need.”
He urged members of the Council to do everything in their power to end this crisis. “With all the will in the world, humanitarian action cannot be a substitute for political action. The Council must exert leadership to push for a political solution.”