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UN humanitarian chief briefs Security Council on Syria and South Sudan

17 Sep 2020


Barisha camp for internally displaced people, in northern Idleb Governorate, Syria, 1 April 2020. Credit: OCHA


UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock on Wednesday briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, restating his concerns about a broader spread of COVID-19 in the country beyond the currently confirmed 3,618 cases; noting the low level of testing; and raising concerns about the impact of the pandemic on an already stretched health system.

Mr. Lowcock highlighted the humanitarian impact of the economic downturn, noting that the price of a standard reference food basket has increased by more than 250 per cent since last year. In addition, he said that more than 70 per cent of households relying on income from daily wages said their income does not cover their needs – a 10 per cent increase since January.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator also raised concerns about the protection of civilians, noting that while the situation remains relatively stable in north-west Syria, there are reports of shelling close to the front lines in Idleb.

In southern Syria, reports of kidnappings and targeted attacks also continue on an almost daily basis. In addition, explosive hazards continue to claim lives across the country, with at least 27 civilians killed, 13 of them children, between 1 August and 13 September.

On humanitarian access, Mr. Lowcock said that the UN is adjusting its cross-border operations into north-west Syria to meet the needs of millions who rely on these operations for life-saving assistance. He noted that while deliveries are taking place, there have been some challenges on the Syrian side of the border and that efforts continue to deliver to the area crossline from Damascus.

Turning to the north-east, Mr. Lowcock said that access challenges had been recently overcome in dispatching several crossline humanitarian deliveries to Qamishli, due to delays at the Al Tabqa crossing point. He further noted the importance of narrowing the gap in medical assistance coverage since the removal of Al Yaroubiya as an authorized crossing point for UN cross-border assistance, stating that one NGO partner – supporting 38 health facilities – reported a complete stock-out of insulin, as well as shortages of critical medicines for non-communicable diseases.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator highlighted the assistance humanitarian agencies continue to provide across Syria, noting that most assistance continues to be provided from within Syria, reaching over 4 million people every month. In July, humanitarian operations from within Syria reached 4.6 million people, including food assistance delivered to 3.8 million people, and more than 900,000 medical procedures.


South Sudan

Mr. Lowcock also briefed the Security Council on South Sudan, where he noted that violence, COVID-19, floods and an economic downturn have exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation.

The UN humanitarian chief reiterated the need for a political solution to end the violence in parts of South Sudan, and called for safe and unhindered access to vulnerable people, as well as additional funding to help meet rising humanitarian needs.

In 2020, 7.5 million people in South Sudan need humanitarian assistance.

Nearly 6.5 million people – more than half the population – faced severe food insecurity at the height of the annual hunger season (May-July). The impact of COVID-19 has pushed an additional 1.6 million newly vulnerable people, mainly in urban settings, to require food and livelihood assistance.

Despite an extremely challenging environment, humanitarians assisted nearly 5.1 million people across South Sudan in 2020. Pre-positioning humanitarian supplies ahead of the rainy season and distributing double rations have been crucial in mitigating the effects of COVID-19 restrictions.