Syria ‘caught in a downward spiral’ UN relief chief tells Security Council 

15 September 2021

The UN humanitarian affairs chief warned on Wednesday that Syria, after more than a decade of war, remains “caught in a downward spiral” and that “the country will continue to be a place of tragedy, so long as the conflict continues.” 

Martin Griffiths, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Security Council, following a visit to the region at the end of last month. 

He highlighted increasing needs, continuing problems accessing hard-to-reach areas, and the need for adequate funding to respond. 

‘Constructive discussions’ 

For Mr. Griffiths, his visit offered an opportunity for “candid and constructive discussions”, including in Damascus with the Foreign Minister and his Deputy; and in Ankara, with the Presidential Spokesman and Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister. 

His chief conclusion was that “humanitarian needs in Syria are greater than they have ever been.” 

An estimated 13.4 million people across the country require humanitarian assistance; a 21 per cent increase compared to the year before and the highest since 2017. 

Even with these numbers, Mr. Griffiths said “the lived reality is even more dire than figures can describe.” 

“I spoke there with women, men and children, about the profound effects of more than ten years of conflict. Children asked for help to learn, to receive health care, and for fuel to survive the upcoming winter. 

“Women-headed households spoke of the challenges they have in finding income, almost none of them having such income available, as well as for their families to survive,” he recalled.  

Billions more needed 

The Syria Humanitarian Response Plan, at $4.2 billion a year, is the largest and most expensive worldwide, but only 27 per cent of the response is funded. Just over a quarter of the people in need have a chance of meeting their needs through this humanitarian operation.  

“Even if this total increases in the coming months, through the response and generosity of donors – which I hope it will – funding is not keeping pace with the growing needs of Syrians. This is a fundamental and objective reality,” the relief chief said.  

He also asked the UN and partners to do “much, much more” to put people in Syria on the path towards recovery, including new programmes focused on early recovery. He said that, currently, only 10 per cent of the overall Humanitarian Response Plan goes to early recovery.  

Peace and security 

His visit to Damascus coincided with continued tensions in southern Syria, particularly around the neighborhood of Dara’a Al-Balad, where 36,000 people were recently displaced. 

He welcomed the recent agreement, saying the “ceasefire is an important development”, but stressed the need to see if it holds. 

The humanitarian chief believes “need and suffering will continue to grow in the near term”, but said he returned with “a renewed commitment and conviction to identify, develop and invest in sustainable and effective ways to help.” 

He recognized the complexity of the task, but said it is what the Council members and the countries they represent owe to the people of Syria.  

“They continue to suffer, and those children that I met in that classroom in Aleppo continue to have an uncertain future, and it is our job to bring some kind of consolation in that future,” he concluded. 

A young girl and a woman walk past destroyed buildings in the city of Maarat al-Numaan in Idlib, Syria.
© UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti
A young girl and a woman walk past destroyed buildings in the city of Maarat al-Numaan in Idlib, Syria.

 

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