New York, NY, September 27, 2023 — As Delivered
IRC'S Regional Vice President for MENA, Su'ad Jarbawi Stated,
"Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.
The International Rescue Committee has been delivering aid in Syria since 2012, and in many respects, it has never been so complex. Yet the truth is that very little of what I will share with you today will come as a surprise. Month on month, year on year, this Council has been briefed on the declining humanitarian situation inside Syria. And 13 years into the crisis we have simply run out of novel ways to describe the suffering experienced daily by so many.
Forever on the brink, and yet somehow consistently able to plunge into new-found depths, the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to decline. The first outbreak of cholera in more than a decade last year, rates of malnutrition never seen before, increasing hotter summers and unpredictable winters all exacerbating the situation for Syrian families. It is therefore imperative it stays on the agenda of this Council, and so I thank you for the opportunity to brief you all today on behalf of the IRC, partners and those that we serve.
As you have already heard from OCHA more than 15 million people inside Syria are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. More than at any other point since the conflict began. The absence of progress towards a political solution and consequences of protracted crisis have pushed roughly 90% of Syrians into poverty. Without concerted action to address the drivers of humanitarian need, these numbers will only continue to rise.
In July, this Council failed to re-authorize UN-led cross-border assistance to northwest Syria. The resulting uncertainty has highlighted the critical, and continued role of the Security Council in promoting safe, dignified and unhindered access to assistance for populations inside Syria. IRC’s Syrian partners have highlighted to us their frustrations and anxiety following the non-renewal of the resolution. Including their very legitimate concerns over the future of humanitarian assistance for the millions of people that depend on it, the majority of whom are children and women.
Syrian voices and civil society are the lifeblood of this humanitarian response, and it is incumbent on all actors to ensure that they are both heard and included in decision-making.
Across the north of the country, where the IRC works, civilians continue to suffer from perpetual conflict. Shockingly, in some areas of Syria, the IRC’s clients tell us that they have been displaced more than 20 times since the crisis first began. As you have heard from the Special Envoy and OCHA, this last week, in Idlib in the northwest of the country, airstrikes killed a 90-year-old man and his granddaughter who were living in a displacement camp. They had already made the impossible decision of leaving their home to be in a tent in search of safety and yet they still paid that ultimate price. This last month, an escalation in hostilities in Deir-ez-Zor, has seen at least 54 civilians killed, including 4 children. These incidents have continued to cause damage to critical public infrastructure, including hospitals, water treatment facilities and have caused further displacements.
We cannot forget about the devastating earthquakes which struck in February, they too have further added to the layers of suffering, driving displacement, damaging and destroying yet more critical infrastructure, and killing and injuring over 13,000 people in the northwest alone.
As the economic situation worsens and food prices continue to rise, many of those we serve tell us that they can now no longer afford to feed their families. One man living in Serekani Camp in northeast Syria told my colleagues he is forced to choose between lifesaving medical care and food for his family. He has diabetes and heart disease, and the lack of available health services means that he has to sell part of his food basket in order to buy life-sustaining medicine. He spoke of his distress at not having enough to feed his family as a result. This is the impossible choice facing many Syrian families in need right now. Sadly, these choices are not limited to medical services and food alone and rather extend to every facet of life inclusive of the education of children.
In an assessment conducted this summer by the IRC, nearly half of the households we surveyed stated that their children were not enrolled in school. When asked why, 74% of households reported that their boys were not enrolled as they needed to work to support their families. While 46% reported that early marriage was the reason behind non-enrollment of girls in education.
While Syrian families are facing impossible choices between food and healthcare, education and financial status, humanitarian agencies are now also being forced to make impossible decisions regarding the services we should prioritize. Across the country, humanitarian assistance continues to provide a vital lifeline to Syrians left with few other options of survival. Yet, despite the clear increase in humanitarian need, this year’s humanitarian response plan as stated by OCHA, is less than 30% funded. Many of our donors have already informed us to expect an additional 20-40% budget cut next year.
This substantial funding gap will simply mean even higher needs in 2024, creating a downward spiral, and forcing us to make the terrible choice of which vulnerable family we should serve. The burden of that choice falls on the shoulders of humanitarian agencies, the IRC and our 27 Syrian partners, as are asked to do even more with less.
With both efforts to bring an end to the crisis, and financial support to those affected by it stalling, there are very real fears that Syria is in danger of becoming a forgotten crisis.
That is why the IRC, and the wider NGO community, had consistently pressed for the 12-month authorization of cross-border assistance by this Council. While recent progress has been made in-country, with UN assistance travelling again through Bab Al Hawa after weeks of uncertainty, we remain concerned that current agreements, which are short-term and time-bound, are not sustainable. All Syrians, regardless of where they reside, have the right to choice and dignity when it comes to access of assistance.
As already noted, we believe it is imperative that the humanitarian situation in Syria remains on this Council’s agenda. Including through regular humanitarian briefings and regular written reporting. With the crisis showing little prospect of abating, we do urge the world to not forget those in need. And continue to emphasize the responsibilities of this Council to protect Syrians wherever they are. Thank you."