New York- U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Stephen O’Brien said there was an urgent need for political action to bolster the ceasefire and end the suffering in Syria. However, he emphasized, “humanitarian access to the millions of people in need must never be open to negotiation.”
“Protecting civilians and granting access should never be dependent on political negotiations or as a bargaining chip for ad hoc deals on the ground,” O’Brien said as he presented the Security Council on Friday the monthly report issued pursuant to resolution 2139 on humanitarian access in the struggling countries.
Speaking via video teleconference from Geneva, he said there must be immediate and unimpeded access throughout Syria; not just to one third, but to all those in need, in a sustained manner covering the full package of supplies, including medical and surgical items.
The sieges, under which 597,000 people were suffering, must be lifted once and for all, and immediately, he stressed, saying that “the use of sieges as a weapon of war is reprehensible.”
He said he had just returned from Syria and had run out of words to describe the misery he had witnessed, including the results of indiscriminate attacks against camps for displaced people and other civilian structures, with total disregard for humanitarian law.
In addition to people in besieged areas, many are victims of measures taken by the government in parts of rural Damascus and Homs and areas closed off by ISIS and other armed groups, he said. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern rural Homs and Hama had limited access to water and other necessities. “The situation of civilians across Aleppo Governorate also remained alarming.”
Just this week, terrorist attacks had taken the lives of scores more people in villages and a hospital had been targeted by a suicide bombing, he said, adding that another hospital, the last serving a large region, had been struck by barrel bombs.
Yet, despite the challenging circumstances, he said, U.N. agencies and non-governmental partners continued their efforts to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the Syrian population.
Millions of people had been reached with assistance in April, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) had begun another nationwide immunization campaign targeting two million children.
O’Brien added that deliberate interference by parties to the conflict, most notably the Government of Syria, continued to prevent the effective delivery of aid.
In this regard, O’Brien called upon the Government to approve the United Nations’ plan for June, which sought to reach 1.1 million people in 34 besieged, hard-to-reach and other priority cross-line locations, and to remove any and all conditions, not least those concerning the amount or type of aid that could be delivered.
He accused the Syrian regime of curtailing the ability of the United Nations to reach even those in locations already approved for deliveries during the month of May; adding that no conclusion could be drawn other than that such actions were part of an effort to further punish civilians.
He went on to note that non-State armed groups continued to prevent a United Nations assessment mission from proceeding to the besieged towns of Foah and Kefrayah in Idleb Governorate.