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UN humanitarian chief: The carnage in Syria’s Idleb should not come as a surprise to anyone

12 Feb 2020


Families fleeing the fighting in Idleb. Credit: HFO Project

Following is the latest op-ed of the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, in The Telegraph:

In the last 24 hours 20,000 people in Idleb packed their belongings and fled to escape bombing. Mostly women and children, they travel in open trucks or by foot; during daylight and at night.

As they move, they look to the sky and wonder if they are about to be bombed. They head north and west into the ever smaller space considered safe near the Turkish border. Most camps are full. Many sleep in the open in fields.

The crisis in north-west Syria has reached a new level. These 20,000 are in addition to the nearly 700,000 people fleeing since December.

What the people of Idleb need is an immediate cessation of hostilities. The attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure taking place in north-west Syria are unacceptable. They must be brought to an end. 

The people of Idleb have nowhere left to go – many have already moved several times. Where they go the bombs follow. Syrians I spoke to in Idleb last month are traumatized. They feel abandoned by the world.

“We are afraid. Please help us. Make it stop,” they say.

Trucks loaded with food, shelter material and water continue to arrive in north-west Syria from Turkey. But the relief operation is overwhelmed.

A humanitarian warehouse was bombed a week ago. Many organizations have had to relocate their staff and facilities.

Three humanitarian workers were killed in the last fortnight. Schools are closed. More than 70 hospitals and health centres have stopped working. There is a serious risk of disease outbreaks. Basic infrastructure is falling apart.

The horrible truth is the humanitarian disaster unfolding is far bigger than the humanitarian system’s capacity to respond. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. We have been warning of it for months.

I have briefed the UN Security Council month after month on the consequences of inaction. Since last summer we have seen deadlock and division.

Calamity can only be avoided if Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first.

That requires difficult decisions, especially from Council members with veto powers. The parties to the conflict have a legal and moral responsibility to respect international humanitarian law.

Time is short. Front lines have now moved to within a few kilometres of Idleb city, the largest urban centre in north-west Syria.

What happens next will depend on whether a solution can be found to ease the situation for those still in harm’s way. The only option is a ceasefire. When will the carnage stop?