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Life for civilians in Syria ‘worse than when the year began’

OCHA’s Assistant Secretary General Ursula Mueller, painted an “alarming” picture of Government forces attacking areas controlled by non-State armed groups, as they in turn, escalated assaults against Government-controlled parts of southern Idleb and Aleppo.

“Civilians on both sides of the frontline suffer the consequences”, she lamented, adding that “medical personnel and facilities have also suffered”.

Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has caused untold suffering for women, men and children and forced more than half of the country to leave their homes.

Northwest: Increased hostilities

Across the northwest, civilians live with the cost of the continued violence, Ms. Mueller continued, pointing to reports saying that in recent weeks, hostilities have displaced up to 60,000 people in Idleb.

“Rain, cold and winter conditions have compounded hardship for many displaced families and their host communities”, while a supply shortage of heating has left Idlib families “burning tires, old clothes, and other household items to stay warm”, she elaborated.

Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations are doing everything possible to assist the most vulnerable, including with food assistance to newly displaced households and health and emergency protection services.

“In recent months, WFP [the World Food Programme] has increased the number of people to be assisted via its cross-border modalities to over one million people per month”, flagged the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Echoing the Secretary-General’s warning, she said that a full-scale military offensive “must be avoided” as it would result in “a devastating humanitarian cost for the three million people” in the area.

Northeast: ‘Serious’ situation

Even though hostilities have recently decreased in northeast Syria, the humanitarian situation “remains serious”, Ms. Mueller reported.

She said “rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access remains essential” for the ongoing humanitarian response serving some 1.8 million people in the northeast, adding, “the task is considerable”.

Ms. Mueller stressed: “The delivery of humanitarian assistance must be allowed without interference by the parties” and that monitoring missions must be allowed to confirm that needs are being met.

“We expect all parties to the conflict to facilitate a sustained and scaled-up coordinated response”.

Turning to Al Hol camp, where 94 per cent of the occupants are women and children, she urged Governments to “immediately take back” their most vulnerable nationals to give them the “best chance” for a better future. 

Cross-border humanitarian operations

The delivery of humanitarian assistance must be allowed without interference by the parties – UN deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator

The situation in northern Syria would be “markedly worse” without the cross-border operation that has “staved off an even larger humanitarian crisis” inside the country, espoused the UN official.

She underscored the importance of maintaining the four border crossings as being “vital to ensure lifesaving work in Syria continues”.

Emerging trends

Drawing the Council’s attention to three trends that may become more significant in 2020 for Syrian civilians, Ms. Mueller began with the “vast scale” of humanitarian needs.

She referenced the Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, saying that current projections show some 11 million people in need of regular humanitarian assistance, five million acutely, at an estimated cost of $3.3 billion dollars.

And across the region, costs projected at $5.2 billion will be required to assist some 5.6 million Syrian refugees, more than 70 per cent of whom live in poverty.

“Financial support for both the response in Syria and the wider region remains vital”, she underscored.

Secondly, the economic situation across the country is compounding the suffering, with the cost of living rising, incomes stagnating and a devaluing currency.

To ensure the poorest and those on the brink of poverty “do not slip into an even worse state”, Ms. Mueller said new ways must be found to restore essential and lifesaving services.

Finally, she upheld that “insecurity continues to endanger civilians across much of Syria”, including areas away from frontlines.

Patterns of continued violence “pose considerable risks to civilians and their efforts to pursue a safe and dignified life”, concluded the deputy relief chief.

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