Middle East (Syria) - Security Council Open VTC

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28-Jul-2020 02:18:45
Limited cross-border access into north-west Syria placing strain on humanitarians to reach many in need, aid worker tells Security Council.

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The closure of the Bab al-Salam border crossing is making it harder for humanitarians to access certain areas of Syria, an aid worker told the Security Council during a 29 July video conference meeting, while the representative of a permanent Council member argued that it is possible to handle increased deliveries through a single crossing that remains open.

“The inability to access certain areas in a rapid mechanism through Bab al-Salam — which is critical for the work we do — means that we’re now adding more burden on our aid workers to deliver those more distant and harder to reach areas,” said Amany Qaddour, Regional Director of Syria Relief and Development, a non-governmental organization that provides medical services in north-west Syria.

It was the first time that the Council has met on Syria’s humanitarian situation since the adoption on 11 July of resolution 2533 (2020) that reauthorized the delivery of cross-border humanitarian aid to the country through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for another 12 months. But the resolution did not approve passage of aid through Bab al-Salam.

“With the Security Council’s decision, on 11 July, to extend authorization for UN cross-border aid delivery into north-west Syria, we are working to address the operational challenges arising from your decision,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock.

Both briefers highlighted the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Mr. Lowcock, who is also Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases remains in the hundreds — still a relatively low level — but the true number of cases is certainly higher; limited testing capacity, compared to what is available in neighbouring countries, and a reluctance, among some people, to acknowledge an infection masks the real scale of the outbreak, he pointed out.

He warned that Syria’s economy, devastated by nearly a decade of conflict, has entered a period of extreme fragility, marked by exchange rate volatility, high inflation, dwindling remittances and lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus.

The country’s economy is expected to contract by more than 7 per cent in 2020, with unemployment jumping from 42 per cent in 2019 to close to 50 per cent today. Estimated remittances from Gulf States alone are now $2 million per day, down from $4.4 million in 2017. Food prices are 240 per cent higher than in June 2019. “What this means is that families across the country can no longer afford the very basics,” Mr. Lowcock said.

The ceasefire reached in March in the north-west between the Russian Federation and Turkey is largely holding, but some air and ground-based strikes have been reported in recent weeks, he continued, stressing the need to protect civilians.

The Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria, with a funding requirement of $3.4 billion in 2020, is 32 per cent funded halfway through the year, making it one of the better funded operations, he said, adding that another $384 million is needed for Syria under the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, of which 28 per cent has been received.

He appealed to invest in the education of Syria’s children. A third of school-aged children in Syria — 2.5 million children — are out of school. Another 1.6 million are at risk of dropping out of school.

In her briefing, Ms. Qaddour said that COVID-19 can create a crisis within a crisis, noting that Syria is even more vulnerable considering how fragile its health system has become, which is further compounded by the deterioration of the economic situation. Many are on the brink of starvation and mass displacement.

Ventilators, intensive care unit beds and personal protective equipment are all in short supply, she said. Adding to this, hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, have precarious living conditions in inadequate homes or shelters, and these conditions simply don’t allow for proper social distancing, self-isolation, or hygiene measures for that matter.

She stressed the need to look at health care as a continuum and include provisions that provide primary and community health, rehabilitative care for those with disabilities, and also mental health, given the immense trauma many have endured and the rise in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation.

Urging the Council to share the risk with humanitarian agencies, she said that “the risks aren’t simply passed down to the people who have already absorbed so much risk.”

With the thousands of displacements this past year, women are seen giving birth under trees, without access to health care, she continued. It’s tempting to blame such practices on social or cultural norms, she said, asking the Council to consider the complexity and deeply rooted factors that have culminated and led to these practices.

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