Ms. Lisa Doughten, Director, Humanitarian Finance and Resource Mobilization Division, on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief – Briefing to the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria, 21 Dec 2023 – Syrian Arab Republic

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Thank you, Mr. President.
2023 has proven to be yet another challenging year for the people of Syria.
It started with devastating earthquakes that struck Türkiye, and northern and western Syria, killing tens of thousands of people and causing widespread damage in both countries.
In Syria, the earthquakes hit when needs were already at their highest level since the start of the conflict. They affected close to 9 million people across the country and killed at least 5,900. Millions were displaced, and countless essential service facilities were damaged or destroyed.
The United Nations and our humanitarian partners responded immediately following the earthquakes. We provided first aid and trauma care, food assistance, and shelter support. We provided psychosocial support and protection programming. We supported the removal of rubble and worked to urgently restore basic services.
However, devastating and widespread damage to infrastructure caused by the earthquakes is still being acutely felt ten months later – even more so amid the current economic crisis.
Some 60,000 families lost their homes, while hundreds of thousands of homes, thousands of schools, and hundreds of health facilities were damaged.

Mr. President,
Working with our partners, we have supported the rehabilitation of hospitals, schools, markets, roads, water lines and other civilian infrastructure, including through projects financed by the OCHA-managed pooled funds.
Here, I must acknowledge the generosity of our donors, who mobilized swiftly and completely funded the Syria earthquake appeal.
However, there is still much work to be done.
Survivors are enduring terrible trauma while grappling with the material aftermath of the destruction.
And our ability to address the lasting and increasing needs across the country is now being severely constrained by a lack of resources. This includes funding for early recovery initiatives, which could address the suffering caused by the earthquakes while reducing dependence on external aid.
Mr. President,
2023 sadly saw hostilities in northern Syria return to levels not seen since 2019.
Since August, the fighting in north-west and north-east Syria has killed or injured hundreds of civilians. It has forced tens of thousands of people to endure – and many of them, in fact, to relive – the trauma of displacement.
The hostilities have caused yet further damage to civilian facilities, including critical infrastructure, depriving millions of people of access to electricity, safe water, education and essential health services.
I remind all parties to the conflict that all feasible precautions must be taken to avoid and minimize civilian harm.
This uptick in fighting reminds us that the conflict in Syria is far from over.
For humanitarians, it demonstrates once again that without progress towards an end to the conflict, it will be impossible to effectively address the extensive humanitarian needs in the country on any sustainable basis.
Mr. President,
Against this background, cross-border relief operations remain an indispensable lifeline for more than four million people in need in north-west Syria.
Agreement by the Government of Syria for the United Nations to use the Bab al-Hawa crossing for the delivery of humanitarian assistance currently runs until 13 January 2024.
Consent to use Bab al-Salam and Al Ra’ee crossings – initially granted following the earthquakes in February – was further extended in November for an additional three months, until 13 February 2024.
Mr. President,
As we have repeatedly said, the sheer scale of needs across the country underscores the urgency of scaling up the delivery of aid via all modalities.
The United Nations is committed to continued engagement to ensure all three border crossings remain open.
In the coming days, we will formally request that the Government of Syria extend its consent for the use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing for as long as humanitarian needs persist.
The United Nations will also continue to advocate for sustained and predictable humanitarian access across Syria through all possible means, whether cross-border or cross-line.
The huge benefits of increased access were amply demonstrated following the emergency measures introduced by the Government of Syria after the earthquakes.
These measures allowed United Nations agencies to conduct over 300 missions into north-west Syria.
Our colleagues were able to directly engage with affected populations there, conduct needs assessments, and improve the monitoring of projects and programmes.
Through these missions, we are also able to work closely with women and girls, and their community advocates, to strengthen our interventions in response to existing gender barriers that impede women and girls’ access to vital life-saving services.
These missions have been a net gain, resulting in the enhanced overall efficiency of the humanitarian response in north-west Syria, and we look forward to seeing them continue.
Unfortunately, while access reaps benefits in one place, setbacks challenge us elsewhere. United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights, essential for the transportation of UN personnel and vital temperature-controlled medical cargo, have been suspended since 12 October due to repeated attacks on Damascus and Aleppo airports.
Mr. President,
As I have already mentioned in relation to the ongoing earthquake response, a lack of funding is severely constraining our ability to respond to increasing needs across Syria.
Two weeks from the end of the year, the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria is only 33 per cent funded – just $1.8 billion has been received out of the required $5.4 billion.
By comparison, last year’s Response Plan was 52 per cent funded.
Mr. President,
As we have repeatedly warned, this lack of resources is severely constraining our ability to provide critical life-saving assistance to millions of people in need.
Following the reductions announced by WFP in July – which cut food assistance to some 40 per cent of those receiving it – we saw families increasingly resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as drastic reductions in daily food intake, increased child labour, and growing malnutrition among children.
Since we last briefed this Council, the World Food Programme has been forced to announce additional reductions, completely cutting its main food assistance programme, which has sustained millions of families in Syria for over a decade.
Mr. President,
Starting in January, 5.5 million people who benefited from general food distributions at the beginning of 2023 will no longer receive it.
These new cuts, coming as they do amid a deepening economic crisis, will have an even more devastating impact.
With deep sadness, our preliminary assessments forecast further declines in food security in 2024, including a 29 per cent increase in severe food insecurity rates among displaced people living in camps and informal sites.
In this context, the consequences of funding shortfalls for food assistance will be devastating.
Mr. President,
The situation is unsustainable and insupportable.
As the Special Envoy has reminded us yet again today, urgent progress must be made towards peace if the people of Syria are to have any hope for a better future. Let 2024 be the year in which genuine progress is made.
In the meantime, we must all redouble our efforts to keep the people of Syria, and their hopes, alive.
Our ask has been consistent. We need civilians and civilian infrastructure to be protected.
We need sustained humanitarian access throughout the country, through all modalities.
And we need urgent and adequate funding to sustain the life-saving humanitarian response.
Thank you.

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