The UN chief called on the world to step up “financial, humanitarian and political commitments”, to help end nearly a decade of brutal conflict and suffering across Syria, in a video message delivered to the fourth Brussels Donor Conference on Tuesday.
“After nearly a decade of war and economic hardship, the scale of suffering remains shocking”, said Secretary-General António Guterres.
The conference received pledges of $5.5 billion in funding, to support humanitarian, resilience and development activities in 2020, and $2.2 billion for crisis response in 2021 and beyond.
In addition, multilateral development banks and bilateral donors pledged up to $6.7 billion in loans.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed; half the pre-war population, or over 12 million Syrians, are displaced, including 5.6 million who fled the country; millions are going hungry or are malnourished; and 90 per cent of the population lives in poverty.
And all of this is being further compounded by the coronavirus.
UN in solidarity
Currently over 11 million Syrians need emergency assistance just to survive, many of whom rely solely on the UN and its humanitarian partners.
“We provide life-saving food, healthcare, sanitation facilities, education and protection services, to millions of Syrians every month”, the UN chief said. “We help to address their trauma and provide legal advice so they can start to rebuild their lives” – all of which depends on “generous” donor support.
Since only “a political solution can end the suffering in Syria”, he urged “all those with influence” to help Syrians find common ground.
Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock noted that the Syrian crisis is “approaching the length of the combination” of the two World Wars, as it wreaks havoc and acute economic strain across the region.
He painted a gloomy picture of the Syrian economy in “a dramatic downturn” with prices of essential food, medicines and fuel “soaring” as the Syrian pound “fell to a record low against the US dollar this month”.
The UN official cited estimates from the World Food Programme (WFP) in revealing that an “unprecedented level” of 9.3 million people there are food insecure and almost half a million children suffer from stunting, a consequence of malnutrition.
“And now we have COVOID-19, which has the potential to cause much more suffering and loss, with preparations to tackle it inside Syria wholly inadequate in the light of the degrading of the health system through the years of crisis”, added the humanitarian coordinator.
Much of the Syrian population lives in peril as conflict, an economic crisis and COVID-19 threats persist.— António Vitorino (@IOMchief) June 30, 2020
IOM calls for increased funding to allow humanitarians to continue providing life-saving assistance and resilience programming.#SyriaConf2020 #InvestinHumanity pic.twitter.com/OuFghWtA4H
Mr. Lowcock elaborated on how the UN was supporting the situation on the ground, including by providing food assistance to more than 3.2 million people; nutrition support for half a million children; critical water and sanitation for 1.3 million people; and four million medical procedures.
“The humanitarian assistance we provide across Syria and in the region depends on the generous support of the States and constituencies represented here”, he flagged.
Noting that “one of the most tragic consequences of the horror story of the last decade has been the robbing of millions of children of their right to a decent education”, he foresaw major long-term consequences, “for more than fifty years”.
“One of the major challenges is funding”, Mr. Lowcock said and asked donors to prioritize pledges to the education of these children, saying it is “in your own interests, but most importantly in theirs”.
‘Unlocking’ a political process
Syrian Special Envoy Geir O. Pedersen reiterated his call for “a nationwide ceasefire”, along with the need to be vigilant about COVID-19, the importance of resolution 2254, which calls for a ceasefire and political settlement, and the challenges posed by groups listed as terrorists by the Security Council.
Moreover, he again appealed for the Syrian Government and other parties to “carry out large-scale, unilateral releases of detainees and abductees, and meaningful actions on the missing persons”.
Mr. Pedersen expressed his hope that the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee facilitated by the UN in Geneva “will be able to meet on a regular basis throughout the rest of the year”.
Acknowledging that a constitutional discussion would not address the full range of dire realities Syrians grapple with, he maintained that the Committee’s work can be “a door-opener to unlock a broader political process”