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Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Martin Griffiths - Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 20 May 2022

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OCHA
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As delivered

Thank you very much, Madam President.

Ten days ago, we both attended the Sixth Brussels Conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”. This event, organized by the European Union, was an opportunity for the international community to demonstrate its continued commitment to the people of Syria, and they did so.

Close to US$6.7 billion have been pledged for 2022 and beyond. So, my first message is sincere thanks to all donors for their contributions for the funds that are so urgently needed, which I hope to outline in these remarks.

Brussels was also an opportunity to remind the world of the scope of humanitarian needs inside Syria and in the neighbouring countries. As you hear from me each month, they are immense, and they are growing year by year. Madam President, you know them all too well.

[Yet] despite the considerable funding pledged, the commitments represent less than 50 per cent of the total funding requirement for 2022. We need US$10.5 billion for the Humanitarian Response Plan and the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan, for the countries in the region.

This is the largest appeal ever for the Syria crisis, because we have the largest-ever number of people in need.

What does underfunding mean? It means that we will have to prioritize our response and make difficult choices again this year, as we have discussed so often in the past.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that further cuts to its programme could materialize by July, driven by global food price rises and stagnant funding levels. This would have a devastating impact on the people that depend on the WFP’s assistance. 1.9 million more could slide into hunger, due to the impact of rising food prices and the effects of the Ukraine conflict, which I know have been discussed this week so much in New York.

Madam President,

I was pleased to see the level of consensus at the Brussels conference also on the need for focus and priority to be given to early recovery programming. Immediate investments are imperative to support the delivery of education, water and sanitation, health, electricity, and social protection. Only through a sustainable commitment to basic services can we make good on our common commitment to leave no Syrian behind.

It is now critical that the generous pledges announced in Brussels be converted into early disbursals of funding.

Madam President,

Hostilities, including airstrikes and shelling in north-west Syria, continue to affect civilians, including women and children. Constant care must be taken to spare them.

The insecurity continues in Al Hol camp. So far in 2022, 13 murders and four attempted murders have been reported in that camp.

An incident on 10 May targeted an international NGO centre. As a result, all activities in Phase 5 are suspended – Phase 5 of our security arrangements – until the safety and security to humanitarian workers can be ensured.

As we said before, and as I said before and so many have, the situation in Al Hol is a disgrace for the 56,000 civilians living there, the vast majority of whom are women and children.

In fact, nearly 10,000 children and their mothers in the north-east are detained in prisons and prison-like camps.

Of course, we need to take action. Children should not be detained based solely on alleged association with armed groups. They should be released into suitable care. They need protection and basic services. They need a family life. And they need a future.

We call once again on all member states involved to take urgent action and fulfil their responsibility to repatriate their citizens through all available routes.

People living in Al Hol, and the humanitarian partners serving them, desperately need an approach to safety and security that maintains the civilian character of the camp and give them a horizon of future beyond the camp.

Madam President,

We are fast approaching summer and its scorching heat in most parts of Syria. This will lead to increasing demand for water. Already, water levels in the Euphrates River are dropping to a critically low point.

Nearly 5.5 million people in Syria rely on the Euphrates and its subsidiaries for drinking water.

The Tishreen Dam Authority has warned that due to low water levels the dam is only going to be operational six hours a day. That comprises the provision of water and also the supply of electricity.

The supply of electricity is not a luxury. It is critical to essential services, as I saw very clearly when I was there last year in Aleppo. Without electricity, irrigation pumps can’t function, hospitals and other critical services can’t be supported, and residents must purchase drinking water, further eroding their purchasing power. So, electricity has an impact on many aspects of the emergency needs.

Alouk water station continues to work only intermittently, and pumping has been interrupted several times in the past month due to electricity shortages, resulting in limited water flows. Hassakeh city continues to be supplied through water trucking. This is not a sustainable solution; this is the last one that anyone would consider, with its expense and its inevitable lack of reliability. But it’s better than not having it.

Madam President,

The UN and our partners are currently supporting more than 12,000 students to cross between areas of control to take examinations at the end of this month – and I remember this also from last year. These children are so active in seeking opportunities to finish their education and they are our only hope for Syria’s future. When we see a generation of children not having access to education, which is in one sense, one of the worst aspects of conflict, it’s the responsibility of all parties to respect this right, to provide every support to allow children to travel safely to where they can take those exams.

We continue our effort to expand cross-line humanitarian access.

In the north-east, the UN is planning to carry out a cross-line mission, in the coming days or weeks, to Ras al Ayn. This is to provide medical supplies, including leishmaniasis medication.

On 16 May, the fourth cross-line convoy delivered food assistance to northwest Syria to more than 40,000 people. The United Nations is now working on the modalities of a fifth inter-agency cross-line convoy, in line with the operational plan that we have submitted [to the parties] and discussed in the Council, for cross-line convoys to north-west Syria.

The plan, which focuses on the implementation of inter-agency crossline convoys to communities in Idleb and Aleppo, has been extended through December 2022.

As we all know, the Security Council authorization for the UN and partners cross-border assistance into the north-west expires in just over six weeks from today.

While we are doing our utmost to expand cross-line access, leaving no stone unturned in that endeavour, let me reiterate, as I’ve done at every opportunity in the past, that cross-line operations cannot under current conditions replace the size or the scope of the massive UN cross-border operation.

Failure to renew the authorization will disrupt life-saving aid for the people living in north-west, including more than one million children as part of that population.

Madam President,

As we speak, I’m delighted to say that my Deputy, Joyce Msuya, who you have seen frequently already in this Council, is completing a visit to Syria and Jordan to support the humanitarian partners’ response to the crisis there, and to identify strategies to meet the challenges that the coming months will bring. I will be meeting Joyce and colleagues on Sunday. I will be hearing a lot more of the issues and priorities we need to address, and we will be all better briefed when we meet again. I look forward to doing that at our next meeting. Thank you, Madam President.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.