"Even before COVID-19, 80% of Syrians lived below poverty line" – UN humanitarian chief

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock called on the Security Council to renew the authorization for cross-border operations into northwest Syria and stressed that any delay in this decision would “increase suffering and cost lives.”

Briefing the Security Council in a virtual meeting today (19 May) on the humanitarian situation in Syria, Lowcock said the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was seen before infections peaked. He said, “The average price of the national reference food basket for April is 15 per cent higher than the March average, and more than double the average recorded in April 2019. It is now higher than at any time since the crisis began.”

To date, the Syrian Government had confirm 58 cases of COVID-19 in areas under its control resulting in three fatalities, while another six cases have been reported in Syria’s northeast, including one fatality; and none were reported in the northwest. Lowcock said building up the limited laboratory and case investigation capacities across the country remains a major priority. He said some 23 million USD have already been allocated from the Syria Humanitarian Fund to support COVID-19 preventative measures, but noted that significant shortages of personal protective equipment and other medical items across the country remained.

The humanitarian chief said, even before COVID-19, an estimated 80 per cent of Syrian already lived below the poverty line in early 2020. He said, “The added impact of the pandemic is now driving food insecurity to record levels: The World Food Programme announced last week that an estimated 9.3 million people in Syria are now food insecure – up from an estimated 7.9 million people six months ago.”

Turning the situation in the country’s northwest, Lowcock said the humanitarian operations there continue at record levels, with 1,365 trucks crossing from Turkey in April alone representing an increase of 130 per cent from the same period in 2019. He said there were three main reasons for the scale up: the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation since December, the need to prepare for the impact of COVID-19, and the pressure which stems from the uncertainty under which humanitarians are operating.

The authorization of cross-border assistance under Security Council resolution 2504 is up for renewal in less than two months, and the UN humanitarian chief told the Council that this decision could not be left “to the last minute.”

He underscored that “too many lives are at stake” adding that “sustaining pipelines in this massive operation requires weeks and often months of lead-time. An environment of uncertainty risks the continuity of aid. It undermines the ability of humanitarian organizations to save lives.”

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator said the cross-border operation for northwest Syria “is a lifeline for millions of civilians whom the United Nations cannot reach by other means. It cannot be substituted. Its authorization must be renewed.” He added, “An early decision by the Council will avoid disruption of this vital operation and help humanitarian organisations continue the scale-up that the current needs and the prospect of COVID-19 demand. A delay will increase suffering and cost lives.”