We are deeply concerned that the United Nations Security Council has voted today to scale back humanitarian assistance to millions of acutely vulnerable people in Syria, just as the first case of COVID-19 is confirmed in Idlib. The UN’s assistance cross-border has enabled life-saving assistance to reach over four million people who are in need of humanitarian aid. Today after weeks of negotiations, members of the UN Security Council decided to close yet another critical channel of aid that has helped to sustain millions of Syrians, the majority of whom are women and children.
These channels are the most direct, effective and highly monitored means of ensuring the most basic life-saving assistance is reaching Syrians in humanitarian need in the northwest of the country. The needs on the ground are at an all-time high after 9 years of conflict and as the Syrian economy is collapsing, rendering the most basic food items unaffordable to most Syrians. With the first case of COVID-19 confirmed in Idlib, an area with a severely weakened health infrastructure, this is a devastating blow.
In northwest Syria, where a vital cross-border lifeline has been closed thanks to today’s vote, it will be harder to reach an estimated 1.3 million people dependent on food and medicine delivered by the UN cross-border. This comes after the World Food Programme’s Executive Director David Beasley last week highlighted the urgency of addressing food insecurity and the impact of a severe economic downturn, warning of a possible famine in Syria. The complex operational environment and access constraints mean that Damascus-based responders have been unable to regularly reach all areas cross-line.
The failure by the Security Council to re-authorise humanitarian access to northeast Syria is also unacceptable. In northeast Syria humanitarian actors continue to struggle to fill the gaps left by the Security Council’s decision to remove UN cross-border assistance from Iraq in January. With COVID-19 cases already confirmed in the area where there are 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including hundreds of thousands living in crowded camps, the Security Council has effectively left vulnerable Syrians behind and facing a critical shortage of medical supplies at a time where they are needed most. Operating cross-line brings with it significant risks and logistical hurdles which have yet to match the scale of cross-border programming.
This Security Council resolution comes at a time where the country is bracing for a COVID-19 outbreak, where hundreds of thousands of Syrian families are extremely vulnerable to the disease given their lack of access to healthcare services, hand-washing and physically distanced shelter arrangements.
Many will now not receive the help they need. Lives will be lost. Suffering will intensify. We call on the UN Security Council to urgently reconvene to increase access through all modalities including by re-authorising further cross-border humanitarian assistance to northeast and northwest Syria and to stop playing politics with people’s lives.