In an impassioned appeal to the Security Council, the top United Nations relief official today called on the global body’s primary organ for maintenance of peace and security to act immediately to end the bloodshed in Syria so that humanitarian assistance is able to reach those who desperately need it.
“Syria is bleeding. Its citizens are dying. We all hear their cry for help. As humanitarians we are doing all we can,” UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the 15-member Council today.
He added that last week, even as world leaders discussed Syria at high-level meetings and during the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate, violence intensified in the war-torn middle-eastern country and more civilians and aid workers were killed.
“It is time to place blame. It is time this Council stops tolerating the utter disregard for the most basic provisions of international humanitarian law,” Mr. O’Brien underscored.
Recounting the intensification of fighting across the country and in particular in eastern Aleppo, the UN official stressed that the conflict he said: “This is not an unforeseen result of forces beyond our control. This is due to the action of parties to the conflict and it is the direct result of inaction – be it through unwillingness or inability – by the international community, including most notably those present in this chamber.”
The situation is s a critical test of the “capacity and willingness” of the members of the Security Council to make a decision and take action and to uphold the words of the UN Charter: “to save the Syrian people from the scourge of war.”
The iconic city of Aleppo is the worst affected location in the country, where according to estimates, since the 22 September announcement by the Syrian Ministry of Defence that it would launch an offensive there, some 320 civilians were killed and 765 injured in the first days. It is particularly concerning that over 100 children have been killed.
“These are not simply numbers to be added to a tally, these are individuals, family lives that we have collectively failed to save,” lamented Mr. O’Brien, who is also the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
In briefing to Security Council, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien expresses grief and anger at situation in Syria. Credit: UN News Centre
He also drew attention to the alleged use of “bunker busting” bombs, which has reportedly caused mass destruction in an area that has already been decimated. “This means there are bodies of babies, children, women and men stuck unrecovered in the rubble of basements up to 20 metres down where they had taken refuge – and where they had been safe until the use of these recently introduced weapons,” he said.
He also reported that water supplies have stopped to most of eastern Aleppo after a pumping station was rendered inoperable due to the fighting and just yesterday, two of the eight remaining hospitals, including two of four surgical units, were attacked and are now out of service.
Furthermore, multiple airstrikes have hit the Jisr Al-haj area in eastern Aleppo city, reportedly damaging warehouses belonging to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and killing one of the few remaining doctors in east Aleppo, as well as the doctor’s wife – a senior midwife.
There have also been reports of patients being turned away or treated on the floors of the few remaining health facilities and the very few intensive care units still operating have been completely overwhelmed. Severe shortages of surgical items, blood bags, anaesthetics and other critical medical items have also reported.
Mr. O’Brien further reported that indiscriminate attacks are also being launched by non-State armed groups into western Aleppo.
Relief aid at the ready, but pause in fighting needed
Highlighting the humanitarian needs, Mr. O’Brien said that the priority for assistance is medical items and food. He also noted that there are more than 100,000 children trapped in east Aleppo and that they are among the most vulnerable.
“We have been ready, and we remain ready to deliver assistance to eastern Aleppo through cross-border and cross-line support,” he said, and added that a minimum 48 hours weekly humanitarian pause must be urgently implemented to allow humanitarian aid to enter and for medical evacuations to be carried out.
“Now is not the time for political grandstanding or protection of one’s political or, indeed, military position. Now is the time to recognize the horror unfolding before our eyes, agree upon our common humanity and restore the cessation of hostilities to protect civilians and save lives,” he stated.
Attack on humanitarian convoy
Speaking on last week’s attack on a joint UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy to Urum al-Kubra, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said that while full details on the incident are not yet available, if the attackers knew of the aid convoy and intentionally directed an attack against it, they committed a war crime.
“As I have said before, those on the front lines delivering aid are brave, but they are not suicidal,” and he underlined the necessity of sufficient security guarantees for the delivery of aid must be in place.
“That means engaging with all parties impartially, even to the distaste of some […] for us access is everything, without it, as we go far and wide across Syria we can’t make the difference that the world’s citizens call on us to make,” he added.
Mr. O’Brien went on to tell the Council about situations in other parts of the war-ravaged country, and of efforts to deliver humanitarian support in those regions.
Concluding his briefing, he urged the Council: “It is up to you to turn the tide, to create the conditions for aid to reach all in need. To end the sieges. To restore political dialogue. And to bring an end to the war.”
UN Deputy Special Envoy for Syria briefing in Geneva
Earlier today, UN Deputy Special Envoy for Syria Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy spoke to the media in Geneva and reiterated Mr. O’Brien’s concerns about the desperate situation in Aleppo.
He noted that according to estimates, as many as 600 wounded people cannot be provided with medical treatment and underlined that there are now less than 35 doctors covering a population of at least 275,000.
“It is clear that humanitarian aid, especially medical items and medical evacuations are urgently needed [and] we hope that it will be possible to create conditions for such deliveries to be made,” he said, adding: “The UN continues to be ready to deliver humanitarian assistance as soon as possible.”