UN humanitarian affairs chief Mark Lowcock said that the United Nations and its partners are working to address operational challenges arising from the Council’s decision following weeks of division, on 11 July, to reduce to just one, the number of border crossing through which food, medicine and other forms of aid can pass from Turkey into Syria.
The UN is also helping to tackle COVID-19 in Syria, where the number of confirmed cases remains in the hundreds, but the true number is certainly higher, Mr. Lowcock told the Council’s monthly meeting on the humanitarian aspects of the conflict in Syria that erupted in 2011.
Time of ‘extreme fragilty’
“The Syrian economy, devastated by nearly a decade of conflict, has entered a period of extreme fragility,” he added, marked by exchange-rate volatility, high inflation, dwindling remittances from Syrians working abroad, and lockdown measures to contain the novel coronavirus.
This year, the economy is expected to contract by more than 7 per cent, he said. Unemployment is close to 50 per cent, compared with 42 per cent last year and 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”, he said, noting that 9.3 million people in Syria are living with food insecurity – with over two million more, at risk of joining them.
Respect and protect
On the need to respect and protect civilians, Mr. Lowcock said that the ceasefire in northwest Syria – reached in March between the Russian Federation and Turkey – is largely holding, despite periodic shelling, airstrikes and bomb attacks that have killed or injured dozens of people, including children.
Elsewhere in Syria, the lack of regular humanitarian assistance is creating a critical situation for 12,000 civilians thought to be still in Rukban, near the Jordanian border. Mr. Lowcock added that his team is also monitoring with concern an uptick in violence in the southern city of Dara’a.
Water, school woes
Water is another worry, with the Euphrates river at low levels and disruptions involving the Alouk water station affecting 460,000 people in Al-Hasakeh governorate, in northeast Syria, he said.
Meanwhile, a third of Syria’s school-aged children – some 2.5 million youngsters – are out of school, with another 1.6 million at risk of dropping out. Yet thousands of students are crossing frontlines to take national exams, hoping their future will take a turn for the better.
Mr. Lowcock reported that the fourth Brussels Pledging Conference on 30 June generated $7.7 billion in pledges for humanitarian, resilience and development activities in Syria and the region. The biggest pledges came from the European Commission, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, France and Denmark.
$384 million still needed
This year’s $3.4 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria is 32 per cent funded so far, “making it one of our better funded operations,” Mr. Lowcock said, adding however that another $384 million is required for Syria under the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan – of which 28 per cent has been received.
COVID, a crisis within a crisis
Also briefing the Council today was Amany Qaddour of Syria Relief and Development, a non-governmental aid agency, who described the COVID-19 pandemic as a crisis within a crisis that has exposed how fragmented the health sector in Syria is.
“We know that negative health outcomes don’t emerge in a vacuum,” Ms. Qaddour told the Council, which has been meeting via video-teleconference since mid-March when UN headquarters in New York closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the initial focus has been on trauma and emergency services, healthcare must be seen as a continuum that includes provisions for primary and community health, rehabilitative care for persons with disabilities, and mental health, she said.