It is now three weeks since the earthquakes struck Türkiye and Syria, and the devastating scale of the disaster has come into sharper relief.
At least 50,000 people have been killed, including about 6,000 people in Syria, mostly in the north-west. Many more are injured. Tens of thousands of people remain missing. Hundreds of thousands are homeless.
Further, the worst-affected area was hit again by strong aftershocks yesterday. Additional death and destruction have been inflicted on an already traumatized population.
This immense, almost unbelievable, tragedy came at an extremely difficult time for the people of Syria, compounding suffering in a country already plagued by 12 years of armed conflict.
Even before this latest tragedy, some 15.3 million people — 70 per cent of the country’s population — needed humanitarian assistance.
Amid the harsh winter season, the earthquake has destroyed entire neighborhoods, rendering them uninhabitable, as I saw myself earlier this month.
While many Syrians have generously opened their homes to others, collective shelters are more overcrowded than ever. Early assessments indicate five million people in Syria require basic shelter and non-food assistance.
In many areas, four to five families are packed into tents, with no special facilities for older people, people with chronic illnesses or those with disabilities.
Hundreds of buildings are still at high risk of collapsing. Thousands more may need to be demolished. Many people are afraid to return to their homes, yet to be certified safe.
The risk of disease is growing, amid pre-existing cholera outbreaks. The prices of food and other essential items climb even higher.
Women and children face increased harassment, violence, and risk of exploitation, and the need for psychosocial support is great.
More people need humanitarian assistance. And community tensions are mounting.
The search-and-rescue phase of earthquake response is ending.
We have witnessed heroic efforts to help victims caught beneath rubble.
These moments show us that, international efforts notwithstanding, the greatest heroism has been Syrians saving Syrians.
Tragically, many first responders were victims themselves. Dozens of humanitarian workers were killed or injured during the earthquake and its aftermath.
The humanitarian community is already responding to this challenge.
Since 9 February, the United Nations has sent more than 423 trucks into north-west Syria, carrying critical food, shelter, sanitation kits, and medical equipment and supplies for at least one million women, men, and children. Many more deliveries are planned in the weeks ahead as we ramp up to the scale that is needed and the people in the area are entitled to.
I welcome the Government of Syria’s agreement to open Bab Al-Salam and Al-Ra’ee bordercrossing points for the UN to deliver humanitarian assistance to north-west Syria.
These crossings are a vital addition. In the last two weeks, these border crossings have already allowed the UN and its humanitarian partners to more quickly and efficiently access people in need across north-west Syria.
UN staff are conducting near-daily missions in north-west Syria to complete essential humanitarian activities: assess gaps, support local partners, monitor programmes, and liaise with local authorities.
I also welcome the Government of Syria’s fast-tracked visa approvals. These new procedures have allowed UN agencies, NGOs, and other humanitarian actors to surge specialized personnel to support operations in Damascus and affected areas of Syria.
In Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Lattakia, the UN is helping people in overcrowded collective shelters and host communities, with a particular focus on responding to gender-based violence and other protection risks. Referral systems, in-kind assistance, and psychosocial support are among the measures employed to help mitigate the inherent risks.
I released $40 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to support relief operations. OCHA is also using the Syria Humanitarian Fund and the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund to help our partners expand their operations.
The earthquake response has not been without challenges.
Efforts to restart vital crossline missions to north-west Syria were delayed. We continue to press upon all parties to facilitate timely and unimpeded access for humanitarian relief and personnel, in line with what international humanitarian law requires.
The UN continues to liaise with parties to explore all viable options, and our aim is for these convoys to resume in the coming weeks.
Growing demand, scarcity of critical items, such as tents, and rising prices are straining our supply chains. Essential markets can no longer readily supply cross-border operations for some core relief items, amid increasing domestic demand.
Critical infrastructure is badly damaged. We need to import machines to clear rubble. We need equipment for makeshift hospitals. We need tools to restore access to drinking water.
The UN is working to address unintended obstacles generated by sanctions and counterterrorism laws. We welcome recent clarifications regarding humanitarian exceptions to sanctions, commitments to expedite the delivery of export licenses, and the efforts to discourage private sector “overcompliance.” Sustained involvement remains essential. Ensuring that humanitarian carveouts cover all restrictive measures applied to Syria is an important step.
While these urgent efforts are necessary, an effective humanitarian response requires sustained effort, close coordination, and generous support.
The Syria Flash Appeal calls for $397.6 million to meet the most critical needs over the next three months. The upcoming donor conference in Brussels will be a pivotal moment for our response in both Syria and Türkiye.
Meanwhile, the 2023 Syria Humanitarian Response Plan will require $4.8 billion to address preexisting needs. This is the largest humanitarian appeal worldwide, reflecting the scale and gravity of needs across Syria.
We know what needs to be done to provide affected people with dignified living conditions and stave off a worsening crisis.
Those in this room can help make this a reality, but we must rise to the occasion.
Thank you to those who have supported the humanitarian response so far.
I hope you will increase your support and others will help too. The people of Syria need us more than ever.
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs