Siege Warfare in Syria Causing Death by Starvation

 

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Sept. 3, 2015, Warring parties in Syria continue to encircle and trap entire communities depriving them of food, water, electricity and medical assistance.

The latest report from the UN independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria outlines the harrowing suffering of the 422,000 people living in besieged areas of the country.

“Siege warfare is conducted in a ruthlessly coordinated and planned manner, aimed at forcing a population, collectively, to surrender or suffer starvation,” the report stated, adding that the denial of basic necessities “has led to malnutrition and deaths amongst vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, infants, young children and persons suffering from chronic illnesses.”

According to UN figures, there are 167,500 people besieged by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya in the Damascus suburbs; more than 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra in Aleppo as well Foua’a and Kafria in Idlib; and 228,000 people by ISIL in the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Dayr al-Zawr city.

The sieges of Ghouta and Darayya are now in their third year.

“Civilian residents in these areas have died from starvation, from injuries sustained in aerial bombardments and, as a consequence, from a lack of medical care. A majority of pregnant women in the besieged areas suffer from anaemia, and cases of miscarriage and birth defects have increased noticeably,” the report, which was released on Thursday in Geneva, stated.

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 report said the situation in the besieged areas of Idlib was “particularly dire” with acute shortages of milk for infants.

The more than 220,000 besieged people living under ISIS in populated areas of Dayr Az-Zawr city for the past year, which remains under government control, “have survived on bread and water,” the report said.

Access to clean water is limited in these areas, according to the report, and cases of diarrhoea, dehydration and gastrointestinal diseases are increasing.

Among other details in the report was a case in March of a father in Idlib who drowned when attempting to swim across the Euphrates River from a besieged area to find food for his children.

Indiscriminate violence continues in these areas, with snipers targeting and killing civilians trying to escape, including children.

Hunger and malnutrition is rising in besieged areas and resulting in death.

“In April, a 13-year-old girl died of hunger in Al-Joura. Another teenage girl cried out to her brother in a telephone call, ‘Our situation is very bad, just pray to God that he will stop the siege or that he will let us die… because we cannot take this anymore,’” the report stated.

In the Yarmouk refugee camp for Palestinians, the commission reports that “interviewees from inside Yarmouk camp describe eating domestic animals and leaves in an attempt to survive. In April, it was estimated that 40 per cent of the children remaining in Yarmouk suffer from malnutrition.”

UN and other relief agencies have only been able to reach 1.8 percent of the population in besieged areas with medical assistance while no food aid reached any besieged area through official routes last month, according to a report by Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council last week.

Black market economies are also on the increase in besieged areas.

“Consequently, sieges are also a business for those enforcing them and for the most well-connected trapped inside,” the commission of inquiry report said. “In most instances, armed actors remain able to function. It is the civilian population who suffers.”

The report from the independent commission covers January 10 – July 15 this year and is based on 355 interviews. The members of the commission are Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair, Karen Koning AbuZayd, Vitit Muntarbhorn and Carla Del Ponte.

The report also covers the situation of detainees, religious and ethnic communities, women, children, medical personnel, human rights defenders and lawyers.

In their conclusion, the commissioners state, “It is thus unconscionable that the global community, as well as regional and local actors, are prevaricating in their response to a conflagration which has been escalating since 2011.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

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

Podcast, Episode 1, Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

April 20, 2015 – Interviews with UN officials on the sidelines of the recent Kuwait III pledging conference, including WHO director-general Margaret Chan who provides an overview of the health crisis inside Syria; WHO Syria coordinator Elizabeth Hoff on specific health challenges, including prostheses and mental health; and the World Food Program’s Dina El Kassaby, recently returned from Syria, on what she saw and the challenges of delivering food aid.

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

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

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

Top 25 Donors to UN Syria Appeals in 2014

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June 4, 2014 - A total of $2.1bln has been contributed in 2014 to the two United Nations appeals for Syria – one to address the humanitarian situation inside the country and the other to assist the 2.5M refugees in neighboring countries.

The amount received so far this year is still much less that the $6.5bln the UN says it needs to respond to the crisis. Last year, a total of $3.1bln was contributed to UN appeals while in 2012, the figure was $1.2bln.

The US is the top donor by some distance in 2014 contributing a total of $407M, followed by Kuwait, $300M, and the European Commission, which has contributed $294m.

These are the top 25 donors to the Syria appeals so far this year.

1. US $407M
2. Kuwait 300M
3. EC $294M
4. UK $238M
5. Canada $143M
6. Japan $119M
7. Germany $95M
8. UAE $71M
9. Norway $64M
10. Australia $30M
11. Denmark $25M
12. Saudi Arabia $22M
13. Switzerland $18M
14. Netherlands $17M
15. Finland $11.5M
16. France $11.2M
17. Belgium $11.1M
18. Qatar $11M
19. Sweden $8.9M
20. Italy $8.2M
21. Ireland $5.2M
22. Morocco $4M
23. China $3.9M
24. Luxembourg $3M
25. New Zealand $2M

Data from UN OCHA Financial Tracking Service.

Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/Wikimedia

UN Aid Chief Chides Security Council Over Syria Inaction

OCHA Head speaks to the press following Security Council Consultations on the situation in Syria
April, 30 – 2014- Valerie Amos on Wednesday told members of the Security Council behind closed doors that they were failing to uphold the founding values of the UN in their approach to Syria.

Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that only ten percent of the some 250,000 people living in besieged areas received aid in the past month despite a February 19 resolution demanding unimpeded access for humanitarian relief.

“I told the Council that in my reports I have demonstrated time and time again the minimal impact of the approach being taken so far, and that public pressure and private diplomacy has yielded very little,” she said to reporters after briefing the 15-nation body.

“I also told the Council that the UN is a multilateral organization. Its founding values set the framework for the way in which we work. In Syria, those founding values and the responsibility of a state to look after its own people are being violated every day, and I think the onus rests on the Council to not only recognize that reality, but to act on it,” she added.

She spoke a day after a group of legal experts published a letter criticizing Amos and the heads of other UN agencies for “an overly cautious interpretation of international humanitarian law.” They argue that relief agencies do not need permission, which is not forthcoming, from the government in Damascus to deliver life-saving aid to trapped civilians.

February’s resolution on unimpeded aid delivery also states that the Council intends to take further steps in the event of non-compliance which puts pressure on China and Russia, who voted for it, to agree to a tougher follow-up resolution.

However, Russia’s state news agency on Wednesday reported that Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said a Chapter 7 resolution being prepared by his Western colleagues was “untimely.”

In his report to to the Council, Ban Ki-moon wrote that “none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Council.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine