The crisis in north-west Syria has reached a “horrifying new level”, the UN Humanitarian Affairs chief warned on Monday.
Mark Lowcock also said that since 1 December, some 900,000 people have been uprooted by violence, the vast majority of whom are women and children.
“They are traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full”, he stated.
“Mothers are burning plastic to keep children warm” and “babies and small children are dying because of the cold”, said Mr. Lowcock, who is also the UN Emegerncy Relief Coordinator.
A deadly vortex of proxy wars could lead to “the biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century” unless “Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first”, he underscored.
Nine-year downward spiral
Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has forced more than half of the population to leave their homes.
The Idlib region – along with parts of neighbouring Aleppo province and the Latakia governate – is the last stronghold of the rebel and jihadist groups that have been trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The region is home to some three million people, half of them already displaced from other parts of the country.
The latest aggression
The offensive that began late last year has caused the biggest single displacement of people since the conflict erupted following the repression of demonstrations demanding regime change.
“The violence in north-west Syria is indiscriminate”, Mr. Lowcock said, painting a dire picture of aid workers’ equipment and facilities being damaged as the humanitarian workers themselves are being displaced and killed.
Apart from health facilities, schools, residential areas, mosques and markets being hit, he said, schools have been suspended and many health facilities closed.
Moreover, there is a serious risk of disease outbreaks as basic infrastructure falls apart.
“We are now receiving reports that settlements for displaced people are being hit, resulting in deaths, injuries and further displacement”, the Humanitarian Affairs chief explained.
Although a huge relief operation, across the border from Turkey, is underway, he lamented that “it is overwhelmed”.
“The only option is a ceasefire”, concluded Mr. Lowcock.