Syrian Government Attacks on Medical Facilities Reach Record High in April

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May 28, 2015 – A medical facility was attacked almost every other day by Syrian government forces during April and the majority of attacks involved the use of barrel bombs, Ban Ki-moon reported to the Security Council on Thursday.

In his monthly report to the Council, Ban wrote that there were 14 attacks on medical facilities throughout the country in April. Five of the attacks occurred in Idlib, four in Aleppo, two in Damascus and one each in the Deir ez -Zor, Hama and Hasakeh Governorates. In addition, ambulances and medical personnel continue to be targeted. Seven medial workers were killed in April, five by shelling and two who were shot. Government forces were responsible for all attacks, the UN chief stated.

“The number of attacks on medical facilities in April was the highest monthly total on record in my monthly reports since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2139,” Ban wrote. “Attacks on such facilities have a multiplier effect, not only killing and injuring, but also leaving many people unable to get the treatment that they need.”

Meanwhile, the number of people in besieged areas stands at 422,000 including 163,500 besieged by government forces in eastern Ghouta. No assistance reached eastern Ghouta in April but in early May, the World Health Organization was able to deliver, through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), diabetes treatment for 200 people as well as two dialysis machines, according to the report.

WHO had requested permission to send 2,000 renal failure medicines but permission was granted for only 250. The SARC convoy delivering the aid was hit by mortar fire resulting in the death of one volunteer and injuries to three others.

More than 225,000 people are besieged by ISIL Deir ez-Zor city. No aid has reached them since March when the Food and Agriculture Organization delivered 140 sheep.

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The government is also confiscating medical supplies, Ban said in the monthly report to the Council.

“Despite obtaining approval from the local authorities, all injectable medicines, surgical supplies and medical kits were removed from a United Nations inter-agency convoy to Ar-Rastan in Homs by the security forces. Consequently, people were deprived of 10,459 treatments,” he said in the report.”

A measles vaccination campaign by UNICEF and WHO in April targeting 2.5 million children reached 1.6 million children, Ban wrote. ISIL did not permit the campaign in Raqqa and large parts of Deir ez -Zor with the exception of allowing 1,000 children to be vaccinated in Raqqa. Fighting prevented the campaign reaching other areas including in Aleppo, Homs and rural Damascus.

Nine humanitarian aid workers have been killed in Syria since the start of the year, according to the report, bringing to 76 the number killed since March 2011.

The full report is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: ICRC

Ban Ki-moon Monthly Report on Syria resolutions

UN Unable to Reach 420,000 Besieged in Syria

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OCHA map of besieged areas in Syria. Click for larger image.

April 22, 2015 – United Nations aid agencies delivered food to only 18,200 people in besieged areas of Syria last month while health assistance reached a mere 1,198, according to new report from Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council.

Ban wrote that 440,000 people remain besieged in Syria including 167,500 by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya, a further 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra while 228,000 are besieged by ISIS in Deir ez-Zor city as well as 18,000 in Yarmouk.

“The parties to the conflict continued to restrict access to besieged areas during March,” Ban wrote. “United Nations agencies reached a total of 18,000 people (4 per cent) with food assistance and 1,198 people (0.3 per cent) with health assistance. No core relief items were dispatched during the reporting period.”

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The secretary-general’s report stated that with the exception of a supply of water for 300 people last month, no aid has been delivered to eastern Ghouta since March. In the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Deir ez-Zor city, 228,000 people are besieged by ISIL and no United Nations aid has reached them since May 2014, the report said. ISIL has also deactivated a power plant in Deir-az-Zor, severely restricting the water supply for besieged residents.

The report also details continuing summary execution and torture by government forces and ISIS.

The full report is below.

Secretary-General Report on Syria, April 2015

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

EU, US, Kuwait top Donors at Syria Pledging Conference

Ban Ki-moon and Kuwait FM Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah at a press conference following the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria (UN Photo)

Ban Ki-moon and Kuwait FM Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah at a press conference following the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria (UN Photo)

Kuwait City, March 31, 2015 –  A total of $3.8 billion was promised to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation for Syrians at the Third Humanitarian Pledging Conference for the country, more than double the combined amount committed at the previous two donor conferences for Syria.

The European Union and its member states pledged a total of $1.2 billion while the United States, $507 million, and hosts Kuwait, $500 million, were the top donors.

Also among the biggest to promise aid were the UAE, $100 million, and Saudi Arabia, $60 million. “While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organizations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” outgoing UN aid chief Valerie Amos said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has not yet released a final tally of all donors, saying it had to first convert from money pledged in national currencies into dollars, the currency used by the United Nations when releasing figures. [full list of pledges now available]

The conflict in Syria has killed an estimated 200,000 people while a further one million have been injured since 2011.

Amos told UN Tribune that “despite the considerable amount of work that we have been able to do, the huge toll that the people of Syria have had to take is a poor reflection on the international community.

“I think the fact that we have not been able to find a political solution to this crisis, that the violence has escalated rather than deescalated is something I view with a huge amount of regret and I will continue to do what I can as a private citizen to help and support the Syrian people,” she said.

This was the first of the three Syria donors conferences where the UN Development Program was principally involved along the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “I think it’s widely acknowledged now that a purely humanitarian response cannot do the job,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark told UN Tribune.

“We need more sustainable solutions. Those solutions are real investment in livelihoods, jobs, training, basic community infrastructure and services and keeping community tolerance of newcomers coming in. These are development tasks and now there’s wide awareness that this must be invested in.”

Speaking after the conference, Ban Ki-moon told reporters of his “deep anger against Syrian leaders who have been abandoning their own people.”

“The best humanitarian solution to end the suffering is a political solution to end the war,” Ban said. “It is time to forge an inclusive, Syrian-led political transition based on the Geneva Communique and which meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Agencies Pin Hopes on Kuwait Pledging Conference for Syria Funds

An example of a World Food Program package delivered to Syrians in need.

An example of a World Food Program package provided to Syrians in need.

Kuwait City, March 29, 2015 – Representatives from UN agencies started gathering in Kuwait over the weekend ahead of the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria with hopes that donors will stump up much needed funds for the at least 12 million Syrians in need.

A combined total of almost $4 billion was pledged at the previous two donor conferences – $1.5 billon in 2013 and 2.4 billion last year – but almost double that amount is needed at the March 31st gathering to meet basic needs for the remainder of the year.

The World Food Program requires $30 million weekly to feed six million Syrians inside and outside the country while the World Health Organization’s (WHO) requirements to provide life-saving medicines and services for 2015 is over $1 billion.

The WHO’s Tarik Jasarevic told UN Tribune that new crises continue to emerge and with the warmer season approaching the risk of cholera increases.

A crisis that continues to worsen is the decreasing amount of medical facilities and professionals in the country. Barely half the hospitals in Syria are fully functioning while more than half of the country’s doctors and health staff have left the country due to insecurity.

Procuring essential medicines is another growing challenge. While Syria once produced 90 percent of the drugs it needed in in the country, that figure is now less than 30 percent.

A hidden crisis is emerging in the mental health sector with a lack of facilities and a lack of medicine. Syrians with chronic diseases, including an estimated 10,000 children with cancer, are also at risk due to diminishing availability of life-saving treatment while a lack of dialysis treatment for diabetes sufferers is yet another growing crisis.

The UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) requires $903 billion for 2015. Two years ago, 2.5 million Syrian children needed help, the agency’s Juliette Touma told UN Tribune, but that figure has increased three-fold to 8.5 million, including 2.6 million children who are not in school.

Another UN agency hoping for a big response in Kuwait is UNRWA, the agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, including more than 500,000 residing in camps in Syria. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said it urgently needs $415 million as 95 percent of Palestinian refugees in Syria cannot meet their daily needs.

Some 78 governments and more than 40 aid agencies are expected in Kuwait for the pledging conference on Tuesday which Ban Ki-moon will chair.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Needs Far Outstrip Resources as Syria Donors Prepare to Meet

Syrian Refugee Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.  (C. McCauley/Wikimedia Commons)

Syrian Refugee Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. (C. McCauley/Wikimedia Commons)

March 25, 2015 – With the campaign against ISIS dominating headlines from Syria, the United Nations will convene a donors conference on March 31st in Kuwait to raise much needed funds to address the ever-growing humanitarian crisis inside and outside Syria’s borders and to re-ignite awareness of the world’s worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

More than half of Syria’s population is displaced, some 7 million inside the country and another almost 4 million have fled the country with the majority residing in camps in neighboring Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.

An $8.5 billion UN appeal was launched at the beginning of the year but only seven percent of the requested funds have been received, with just 23 countries contributing so far in 2015.

Despite the media and donor fatigue, the humanitarian situation in Syria is dire and atrocities continue, including more reports of chemical agents used as weapons. The Security Council this month adopted a resolution condemning the use of weaponized toxic chemicals following the OPCW’s finding “with a high degree of confidence, that chlorine had been used as a weapon in three villages in northern Syria from April to August 2014.”

An estimated one million Syrians have suffered injuries in the past five years, according to Handicap International with tens of thousands of those in need of prosthetic limbs. And a recent report from Physicians for Human Rights said that in the year from March 15, 2014 to Feb. 28, 2015, 162 medical personnel in Syria were killed. There were 82 attacks on medical facilities inside the country, including 32 attacks on 24 facilities using barrel bombs, the report added.

As well as seeking much needed funds, the United Nations will also hope that Western countries will share the burden of hosting Syria’s refugees. So far, only five percent of those who have fled the country have found refuge in EU countries, with the majority finding shelter in Germany and Sweden.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Four Insiders Who Could Succeed Valerie Amos as OCHA Head

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Jan. 20, 2015 – It’s rare that a top United Nations post goes to someone already working for the organization as headline jobs are doled out as political favors to the permanent five members of the Security Council as well as top donors such as Germany, Sweden, Japan and Norway.

But there is precedent, not least in the case of Kofi Annan who started his career as a staffer with the World Health Organization, later becoming head of peacekeeping, until his appointment as secretary-general in 1997.

With Ban Ki-moon under pressure from aid groups not to succumb to political pressure and appoint David Cameron’s preferred candidate, Andrew Lansley, to succeed Valerie Amos as head of OCHA, he could do worse than look for potential replacements inside his own ranks.

Here are four candidates that fit the bill to succeed Amos as the world’s top humanitarian aid official.

1. David Nabarro

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Nabarro is currently managing the UN’s response to the Ebola outbreak. A native of the UK and a medical doctor, he had stints with the British National Health Service, Save the Children and the the British government’s Overseas Development Assistance program before joining WHO in 1999. His UN experience includes serving in Iraq, where he survived the Canal Hotel bombing in 2003; coordinating the health response to the 2004 Tsunami; coordinating the UN response to the Avian flu outbreak; and coordinating the UN system’s task-force on global food security. That he is British may well make him a good choice for a compromise candidate if it comes down to a political appointment versus appointment on competence.

2. Philippe Lazzarini

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Lazzarini, a Swiss native, is currently the UN’s deputy special representative and humanitarian coordinator in Somalia. He previously held senior positions with OCHA, serving in Angola and Iraq as well as Somalia and the Palestinian territories. Prior to coming to the UN, Lazzarini worked for the ICRC, with postings to Amman, Angola, Beirut, Bosnia, Gaza, Rwanda and Sudan.

3. Amina Mohammed

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Mohammed is currently Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser on post-2015 development planning. She worked for the Nigerian government throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, serving under three presidents, including as an adviser on achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In the early 2000s, she headed up the Task Force on Gender and Education for the UN Millennium Project.

4. John Ging

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Ging is currently OCHA’s head of operations. A former officer in the Irish army, he served three tours of duty as a UN peacekeeper. He later worked with the aid agency GOAL in Rwanda, DRC and Tanzania following the Rwandan genocide. He has also worked with the OSCE in Bosnia and served as head of the UN mission in Kosovo in 2005. He worked for UNRWA as head of operations in Gaza from 2006 – 2011, a period which coincided with Israel’s 2008/09 offensive.

Related Story: Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit-Based

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit-Based

Special Event:  United Nations Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Nov. 26, 2014 – Ban Ki-moon will be pressed by both member states and the international aid community to appoint a successor to Valerie Amos as head of OCHA based on merit and not, as has been his precedent, to give the post to a major power.

Amos, the well-liked, hard-working and longest-serving UN aid chief, has overseen the 1,900 person OCHA office at a time of multiple humanitarian emergencies, which, since her appointment in Sept. 2010, includes crises in Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. She will step down in March 2015, her office said on Wednesday.

Amos is the second UK national to head the OCHA since it was founded by merging two separate offices in 1992. She succeeded John Holmes, another UK diplomat, who served from 2007-10. Britain, as is common with its fellow P5 members, typically has one of its own in a key UN cabinet post. In recent years, UK diplomats have served as head of the UNDP and the Dept. of Political Affairs, which is now headed by an American, Jeffery Feltman. The US also gets control of UNICEF, currently headed by former US national security adviser, Tony Lake.

A French national has headed the UN’s Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations since 1997, after then chief, Kofi Annan, was appointed secretary-general. India, the largest troop-contributing country, covets the post. China’s Margaret Chan heads up the World Health Organization while a Russian, Yury Fedotov, is head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

With NGO’s calling for a more transparent process for selecting the next secretary-general, Ban will be under pressure to show he has an independent streak and is not merely doing the bidding of the big powers. To do this, he will have to select candidates based on their previous humanitarian and leadership experience and make the short-list public.

The appointment of the world’s top humanitarian official will come at a key time, just a year before the World Humanitarian Summit which aims to find new ways to address the growing number of humanitarian crises. Earlier this year, MSF published a withering critique of the global humanitarian response and said the UN was at the heart of the dysfunctional response.

Previous heads of OCHA:

1 Jan Eliasson Sweden Sweden 1992 1994
2 Peter Hansen Denmark Denmark 1994 1996
3 Yasushi Akashi Japan Japan 1996 1998
4 Sérgio Vieira de Mello Brazil Brazil 1998 January 2001
5 Kenzo Oshima Japan Japan January 2001 June 2003
6 Jan Egeland Norway Norway June 2003 December 2006
7 John Holmes United Kingdom United Kingdom January 2007 September 2010
8 Valerie Amos United Kingdom United Kingdom September 2010 present

Related Story: Four Insiders Who Could Succeed Valerie Amos as Head of OCHA

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Prospect of Lost Generation in Syria Now a ‘Reality’

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Nov. 25, 2014 – UN aid chief Valerie Amos on Tuesday told the Security Council that more than 12 million people, including 5 million children, need assistance in Syria and the amount of aid getting into the country is only a fragment of what is needed to address the humanitarian situation.

She said the there was “considerable challenges in implementing”
Resolution 2139 (Feb. 2014), demanding safe, unhindered access to aid, and Resolution 2165 (July 2014), authorizing cross-border aid without state consent.

“This is a conflict that is affecting every Syrian. Syria’s economy has contracted some 40 per cent since 2011. Unemployment now exceeds 54 per cent. Three quarters of the population live in poverty. School attendance has dropped by more than 50 per cent. Young people have few prospects of a bright future,” Amos told the 15-nation body.

“We have lamented the possibility of a lost generation of Syria’s children: it is now a reality.”

She said the resolutions have made a difference and “nearly all the hard-to-reach locations in the four governorates – Aleppo, Idlib, Dar’a and Quneitra” have received aid.

“But despite the progress we have made it is still not enough. No more than two besieged locations have been reached in any month since the adoption of resolution 2165 and only one location has been reached in each of the past two months,” Amos said.

Addressing the Council on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the UN’s top humanitarian official said, “we particularly remember Syria’s women and children. Sexual violence has been used as a form of torture, to injure, to degrade, intimidate and as punishment.”

She also praised the bravery of aid workers, noting that 69 of them have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.

In his report to the Council on the implementation of Resolutions 2139 and 2165, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “at least 239 civilians have reportedly been killed by government airstrikes, including barrel bomb attacks” in the past month.

According to the UN Human Rights Office, 42 barrel bombs were dropped between Oct. 18 and Nov. 6. On Nov. 5 the government air force bombed a Damascus neighborhood, hitting a primary school and killing at least 17 children and injuring a dozen others.

Internal displacement continues unabated with some 50,000 people displaced in the last two weeks of October, according to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Ban wrote that “foreign fighters continued to be involved on all sides of the fighting” and a reported number “of foreign, mostly Shiite, militias joined the pro-government forces in Aleppo.” He added that the Nusra Front and ISIL continue to recruit foreign and domestic fighters. “On Nov. 4, the leader of the Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, stated that foreign fighters constituted ’30 to 35 per cent’ of his group’s total force,” the report said.

In her address to the Council, Amos said she hopes the Council will renew Resolution 2165 when its six-month mandate expires in January.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/ICRC

One Person Killed Every Seven Minutes as Syria Death Toll Nears 200,000

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Aug. 22, 2014 – At least 191,369 people were killed in the Syria conflict from March 2011 to April 2014, according to a new report commissioned by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

That corresponds to about eight people killed every hour for the 1,095 days covered in the report or one person every seven minutes.

The report is the first update from the UN since June last year when it reported that at least 92,901 people had been killed between March 2011 and April 2013. The latest study says that was an undercount and new data has recorded 116,046 deaths in the first two years as a result of the conflict.

The research for the OHCHR was conducted by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group using five sources: 1. the Syrian Government 2. the Syrian Center for Statistics and Research 3. the Syrian Network for Human Rights 4. the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 5. the Violations Documentation Centre.

“The total 191 369 can be understood as a minimum bound of the number of killings between March 2011 and April 2014,” the report states.

85.1 percent are male victims, 9.3 percent are female victims, and 5.6 percent of records do not indicate the sex of the victim.

“The majority of records (83.8 percent) lack information about the age of victims, which makes it impossible to draw conclusions about the distribution of violence over age categories,” the report says. “Of the records that do include age information, 2,165 indicate victims 0-9 years old, and 6,638 victims 10-18 years old.”

The highest number of documented killings was recorded in the Governorate of Rural Damascus (39,393), next highest was Aleppo (31,932), Homs (28,186), Idlib (20,040), Daraa (18,539) and Hama (14,690).

In a statement accompanying the release of the report, UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay lambasted the Security Council for its failure to hold accountable the perpetrators.

“The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis,” she said. “There are serious allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed time and time again with total impunity, yet the Security Council has failed to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court, where it clearly belongs.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo/ICRC

Afghan Aid Workers Exploited by UN, Other Aid Agencies

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Aug. 19, 2014 – Afghan aid workers are put on the front lines by the UN and other aid organizations and are increasingly under attack while their international colleagues remain in secure compounds, the head of a local humanitarian organization told the Security Council on Tuesday.

Masood Karokhail, Director of The Liaison Office, also told the Council that humanitarian space is rapidly diminishing in the country and aid workers are seldom considered neutral from the international political and military presence in the country.

He was addressing the Council as they discussed the protection of aid workers to mark World Humanitarian Day.

Karokhail said since 2001, 895 aid workers have been attacked in Afghanistan, with 325 killed, 253 wounded and 319 kidnapped.

“Afghan aid workers account for 88 percent of those killed, 89 percent of those wounded and 89 percent of those kidnapped,” he said. “And this does not tell the whole story: many local organizations do not report attacks on their staff, the real numbers are likely to be much higher.

“Local humanitarian workers rarely receive the same security arrangements as their international colleagues,” Karokhail told the Council. “This inequality exploits the reliance of many Afghans on employment opportunities within the humanitarian sector: many have been forced to accept dangerous assignments simply to feed their families.”

“There is a need to remove the artificial hierarchy between international and local staff in protracted situations such as Afghanistan,” he said. “Rather than using funds to create a bunkerization of international aid agencies, the assistance community could increase their partnership with national organizations. This, however, should not mean transferring all the risk or responsibility to local organization, but to improving their protection.”

Karokhail said the distinction between aid workers and the political and military presence in the country is increasingly blurred. Over the past several years the UN has adopted a policy of integrating its presence in country missions. For example, for its assistance mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, the deputy special representative of the mission is also the resident humanitarian coordinator.

This dual role and the policy of integrating political, military and humanitarian functions has come in for heavy criticism from many in the aid community who say it threatens the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence. See here and here.

“Communities, and by association the insurgency, have great difficulty distinguishing between different organizations working on the ground,” Karokhail told the Council. “They associate aid organizations with the international presence of ISAF, UNAMA and view all of them as a legitimate target.”

“The fact that offices of many aid organizations, including the UN, increasingly resemble military bunkers with armed guards and usually Afghan Police are used for field travel, adversely impacts on the security of local staff and organizations working for them,” he added.

In his closing remarks, Karokhail said it was time to negotiate with all parties in Afghanistan.

“We all know that the future will hold more violence in Afghanistan,” he said. “The time has come to openly speak to all parties of the conflict and negotiate clear access principles.”

He said that “Afghans organizations understand that they will increasingly be asked to provide assistance where international organizations no longer can. Many stand ready to shoulder this burden. But the international community must do more to protect them, and enable them to protect themselves.

“We can no longer maintain the status quo, where local aid workers put their lives on the line in order to get the job done.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/ICRC