Middle East (Syria) - Security Council Open VTC

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25-Feb-2021 02:27:06
As pandemic rages on, Syria’s children face graver reality than at any other point of conflict, international aid organization official tells Security Council.

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As pandemic rages on, Syria’s children face graver reality than at any other point of conflict, international aid organization official tells Security Council.

An unprecedented education crisis is unfolding in Syria, an expert from a major international aid agency warned the Security Council today, as she described how unaffordable food prices, chronic malnutrition and years of living in unsafe, unhygienic camps — now during a pandemic — likely means that many children will never return to school in their lifetimes.

Sonia Khush, Syria Response Director of Save the Children, said the conflict has permeated every aspect of children’s lives. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, they face a graver reality than at any other point. Spotlighting the convergence of poverty, violent conflict and now sickness and movement restrictions, she said that two out of every three children in northern Syria are out of school. Meanwhile, attacks on schools continue, as does their use for military purposes.

She recalled first-hand accounts of students hiding under school desks as buildings all around them were bombed, as well as the widespread effects of the loss of teachers and a weakened education system on children’s lives. Seventy‑nine per cent of teachers in Syria’s north-east region reported that their students have dropped out of school in order to work to help their families survive. Many teachers themselves have continued to work without pay. Now, amid the pandemic, the only safe way for many children to attend school is online; yet for most Syrians, Internet access remains out of reach.

She also described a protection crisis, noting that millions of people in northern Syria rely on humanitarian aid delivered largely through the United Nations cross-border mechanism. In camps for internally displaced persons, food, water and hygiene needs are still not being met. Many there live in flimsy tents, highly vulnerable to flooding and extreme cold. Meanwhile, 1 in 8 children in Syria is now reported to be suffering from stunting due to chronic malnutrition, and millions go to bed hungry each night. Teenage boys remain vulnerable to recruitment into armed groups and girls are subject to early and forced marriage.

Even as COVID-19 has complicated those challenges, she emphasized that the tools for improving people’s lives have not changed: the prompt delivery of humanitarian assistance — coupled with prioritized investments in education, health and psychosocial services, and stronger efforts to tackle the underlying causes of the conflict — remain the best options.

Drawing attention to the plight of children in two camps of particular concern, she cited an alarming increase in security incidents in the Al Hol camp, which have disrupted the delivery of aid. Save the Children continues to sound the alarm about the conditions in those camps, including cases of COVID-19, and recently made repeated attempts to draw the attention of Syrian authorities to the plight of a 9-year-old Azerbaijani girl in Al Hol who had fallen ill with treatable kidney disease. Tragically, those attempts were not successful, and the girl died in January.

“Foreign children trapped in Syria are victims of the conflict, and must be treated as such,” she insisted, calling for their urgent repatriation to their countries or origin. Seven years after the Council adopted resolution 2165 (2014), the need for assistance in Syria has only grown. “In the middle of the worst pandemic the world has seen in 100 years, I would not know how to tell families in Syria that their access to humanitarian assistance has once again been limited,” she said, stressing that there remains no viable option to the cross-border delivery mechanism.

Reinforcing those appeals, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock stressed that parents are eating less so they can feed their children, and sending them to work instead of to school. “Those who have run out of options are simply going hungry,” he warned. More than half a million children under age five suffer from stunting because of chronic malnutrition. These problems are particularly visible in the north-west and north-east, where an estimated 1 in 3 children suffers from stunting.

He reported on his conversations with a doctor who warned that half of the 80 beds at his hospital were occupied by malnourished children; five children had died as a result of malnutrition within the past two months. Another pediatrician said she diagnoses malnutrition in up to 20 children a day, a problem that “has become so normal that parents cannot spot the signs in their own children”, he stressed.

The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 60 per cent of Syrians — 12.4 million people — lack access to safe, nutritious food, he said, noting that 4.5 million people have fallen into this category over the last year. Syria’s fragile economy has suffered multiple shocks over the last 18 months. Depreciation of the Syrian pound has been one of the most visible effects, with food prices jumping 200 per cent and purchasing power dwindling dramatically as result. Average household expenses now exceed income by 20 per cent and millions of people are resorting to desperate measures to survive.

On the humanitarian front, he said all assistance that enters north-west Syria is delivered cross-border. It supports 2.4 million people on average each month and the majority of that is delivered by the United Nations operation. “When it comes to delivering life-saving aid to people in need, all channels should be made, and should be kept, available,” he stressed, noting that conditions in the north-west are worse than they were last July, when the Council extended its authorization for cross-border deliveries.

“A failure to extend the authorization in the future would trigger suffering and loss of life potentially on a very large scale.”

The United Nations continues to conduct a first cross-line mission into the north-west, with the aim of having regular cross-line missions that complement the ongoing cross-border missions. A new operational plan is being developed to accommodate concerns of the parties involved. The new proposal, which is currently being submitted, foresees a United Nations aid convoy crossing front lines and distributing aid in Atareb with involvement from local volunteers and other partners, the details of which and composition of whom must be agreed.

While his office has yet to reach an agreement with all parties concerned, he said: “Let me be absolutely clear: the United Nations is ready. We have been ready for a long time. What is needed now is wider agreement so that the first mission can go ahead.”

Turning to the north-east, he said increased tensions caused temporary disruptions in emergency assistance for hundreds of thousands of people and that the United Nations is working to scale up cross-line deliveries of medical supplies. Noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) plans to deliver 50 tons of health supplies in the first quarter of 2021, he said expanding the reach of such cross-line deliveries will depend on expedited approvals and access to funding. Only 6 per cent of public hospitals and no public health centres in the north-east are assessed to be fully functioning.

He also reported on the death of a humanitarian worker on 16 February, who was killed by a car bomb near a market in Al-Bab city in the north-west region, citing reports by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of an uptick in attacks involving improvised explosive devices.

Updating on the United Nations strategic framework and the “Parameters and Principles” document, as requested by the Russian Federation, he said drafting of the document, which covers the 2021-2023 period, was initiated in 2020 and aims to reflect agreed operational activities of the United Nations country team, in response to the priorities of Syria, from which programmes and projects of United Nations agencies will be derived.

The programmatic priorities reflected in the current draft result from an extensive dialogue with national partners, and consultations are ongoing with all others to secure widespread support, including financing, for implementing the strategic framework.

To allow for further consultations, the United Nations sought a six-month extension to the framework, he said. The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and country team are moving ahead in an open, transparent process, working with their national counterparts to deliver the best possible outcome.

As the drafting proceeds, the “Parameters and Principles” document is an internal guidance tool to target the operations of the United Nations country team in a complex context, he said. It was formulated through a consultative process and shared throughout the system to provide assistance in a non-discriminatory manner. It is aligned with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and reinforces the humanitarian principles at the core of all United Nations work.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates expressed their views about the need for cross-border aid deliveries, particularly given the dire plight of children in Syria, and offered recommendations for attenuating the suffering.

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