Syria: 'Levels of assistance delivered across border are far from sufficient' – Humanitarian Chief

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Briefing by Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on the situation in the Middle East (Syria-Humanitarian briefing) during the Security Council Open VTC.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Security Council failure to extend the cross-border authorization into Syria “would sever the UN operation currently underway” in the country’s northwest and stressed that it would “cause suffering and death.”

Addressing the Council via teleconference today (29 Jun), Lowcock said the Syrian Government confirmed 256 COVID-19 cases, while six others were recorded in the country’s northeast, but stressed that testing was extremely limited with a little over 8,000 tests conducted so far. He said the UN continues to support COVID-19 preparedness and response measures across Syria, including the expansion of testing capacities. But he added that Syria’s health system is not prepared for a large-scale outbreak.

Lowcock said prices of food, medicines, fuel and other essential commodities are soaring across Syria. The volatile exchange rate has seen the Syrian Pound lose more value in the last six months than in the first nine years of the current crisis.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations:
“The unofficial rate fell to its lowest point on record, at 3,120 pounds against the dollar.
Food prices have consequently reached unprecedented levels. Market monitoring by the World Food Programme shows a 200 per cent increase in the price of the national average food basket since last year. A growing number of Syrians are no longer able to provide for themselves and their families. Many report going into debt and eating less to survive.”

The Emergency Relief Coordinator said, under the cross-border operations authorized by the Security Council, 1,781 aid trucks crossed the border from Turkey into north-west Syria in May. Most of the cross-border aid is food – and it is enough for 1.3 million people every month. Still, he added, more and more children and infants are arriving at nutrition centres showing signs of chronic and acute malnutrition and mother are reporting that they are cooking weeds to supplement food rations.

Lowcock stressed that the current levels of assistance delivered across the border “are far from sufficient” adding that north-west Syria “continues to suffer a major humanitarian crisis.” He underscored that the cross-border operation “needs to be scaled up further” adding that failure to extend it would “end the UN food deliveries and the support to nutrition centres.”

Commenting on Russia’s announcement that it would have no longer participation in the humanitarian notification system, Lowcock said parties to the conflict remain bound by international humanitarian law, including the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution regardless of their participation. He said the system aims to facilitate the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance by informing parties to the conflict of facilities and movements that fulfil a humanitarian function.