The United Nations is “determined to stand by” civilians across Syria’s war-torn northwest, as “a grave humanitarian crisis” continues, the UN emergency relief chief said on Tuesday.
Speaking from Hatay, along the Turkish side of the border with Syria, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, said that displaced civilians were “struggling to survive in horrific conditions”.
Military activity in the region has displaced nearly one million people since December, mostly women and children.
News reports say that Turkey shot down two Syrian fighter jets on Sunday, after 33 Turkish troops were killed in an airstrike last week. A further 19 Syrian soldiers were reported to have been killed following a drone attack.
Mr. Lowcock painted a picture of traumatized, cold people, many of whom forced to sleep in the open.
“Despite extraordinary efforts by humanitarian organizations, aid is not reaching everyone who needs it”, the UN relief chief stated.
“What civilians need is a ceasefire. What civilians need is for international humanitarian law to be respected”, he spelled out.
UN on the ground
As Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian Government forces battle over the last rebel-held part of Syria, the UN is pursuing every option to assist all those in need in the country’s northwest.
“Our inter-agency mission into Idlib yesterday was a crucial step to support ongoing relief efforts in northwest Syria”, Mr. Lowcock added.
UN humanitarian agencies on the ground there were able to gather first-hand, detailed information about humanitarian needs and assess how best to protect civilians.
“The mission found people living in fear of bombings and fighting, and in need of adequate shelter, food, sanitation, basic health services and protection”, he declared.
He said that the UN is sending hundreds of trucks from Turkey into northwest Syria loaded with food, water and shelter each month.
“This is saving lives”, he maintained, adding, “it must continue, and it must be scaled up”.
Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has forced more than half of all Syrians to leave their homes. And according to the UN humanitarian wing, OCHA, the current crisis is the worst that northwest Syria has experienced since the conflict began.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also pointed out that with nowhere else to flee, more people have been displaced into a smaller area in a shorter period of time than ever before.
Lives are increasingly at risk as increasing numbers of people are concentrated in smaller areas. Many are moving to unsafe areas as they have no other options.
Moreover, with reports of exploitation of women and girls, the separation of children from their families, and increasing rates of malnutrition, their vulnerability and desperation is increasing.
With an estimated 2.8 million people in northwest Syria need humanitarian assistance, Mr. Lowcock explained that $500 million would help 1.1 million of the most vulnerable.
He noted that the United States had just pledged $108 million and that an additional $300 million has been received or pledged by donors.
“We are determined to stand by the people of Syria”, concluded the Emergency Relief Coordinator.