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The humanitarian situation in Syria makes the political process of normalisation urgent


Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, September 30th 2021 à 09:35 | Read 301 times



After a decade of conflict, Syria is devastated (Photo: Jessica Lawson/WFP)
After a decade of conflict, Syria is devastated (Photo: Jessica Lawson/WFP)
SYRIA. UN Special Envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen warned the UN Security Council once again on Tuesday 28 September 2021. "The Syrian people desperately need a Syrian-led and -owned political process to achieve results," he said.

Geir Pedersen calls for "constructive diplomacy in Syria" and for this "key states to work with him in exploratory discussions on concrete, mutual, verifiable and reciprocal measures that can be implemented in parallel", as stated in a UN statement.

With the military frontlines largely frozen and the status quo established between the belligerents - although terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of the Levant (EIIL/Daech) continue to operate in the country - the UN special envoy believes that "the time has come to push for a political process." This will need to be led and controlled by Syrians themselves while requiring "sustained international attention in support of a broader effort to consolidate calm, alleviate suffering and move Syria forward on the path to restoring its sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity."

"I hope that the issues discussed in recent international contacts are the floor, not the ceiling, of what we collectively want to achieve in Syria," Geir Pedersen stresses.
 

Drafting a constitutional reform process

Geir Pedersen calls for "constructive diplomacy in Syria" (photo: UN)
Geir Pedersen calls for "constructive diplomacy in Syria" (photo: UN)
The sixth session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee will meet in Geneva from 18 October 2021. Composed of three delegations appointed by the government, the opposition and civil society, it will be tasked with drafting a constitutional reform process.

Resolution 2254, passed by the UN Security Council in 2015, called for a ceasefire and a political resolution to the conflict in Syria. The cessation of fighting was signed on 5 March 2020 under the auspices of Turkey and Russia.
The UN text also called for free and fair elections, under UN supervision, to be held within ten months and for a political transition to be carried out by Syrians. The elections took place at the end of May 2021 and Bashar al-Assad was elected for a fourth term as President with 95.1% of the vote. Only those who had been living for at least ten consecutive years in the two-thirds of the territory controlled by the Syrian regime and those who were able to go to a few Syrian embassies abroad where ballot boxes were available, were able to cast their ballots. However, to vote they had to have a valid passport with an official exit stamp, which by definition excluded the entire opposition. The participation rate was 76.64%, announced the president of the Syrian Parliament.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), Damascus reigns over only 63.7% of the country, its opposition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), over 22.9% and the rest is in the hands of various groups, mainly Islamists, but also foreign armies.
 

13.4 million Syrians need humanitarian aid

Access to clean water has reached "breaking point" according to MSF (photo: Delil Souleiman/Unicef)
Access to clean water has reached "breaking point" according to MSF (photo: Delil Souleiman/Unicef)
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 350,000 people have been killed in the first decade of the Syrian conflict. "Given the large number of people who remain unaccounted for, the real figure is probably much higher," the UN statement said.
Some 12 million Syrians have been displaced and tens of thousands more are reportedly still being held, abducted or missing.

A fortnight ago, Martin Griffiths testified before the Security Council at the end of a visit to Syria and Turkey. The UN humanitarian chief estimated that 13.4 million people across the country were in need of humanitarian assistance, a 21% increase on the previous year and the highest figure since 2017. "The lived reality is even more dire than the numbers can describe," he says. The poverty rate is close to 90%.

On Tuesday 28 September 2021, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported that "a decade of war has left the water and sanitation infrastructure destroyed and neglected". Access to drinking water in the north of the country has reportedly reached "breaking point", putting the health of more than three million people at risk. "In the IDP camps, diseases are spreading because of this situation: diarrhoea, hepatitis, impetigo and scabies," says Ibrahim Mughlaj, MSF health promoter in north-west Syria. "Even when water is available for the population in the north, it is not drinkable," he continues. Since January 2021, 28 per cent of all consultations in one of the MSF-supported hospitals in Idlib governorate are cases of acute watery diarrhoea. By the end of May, this had increased by 50 per cent compared to the previous year in a primary health centre set up by the NGO in Raqqa.

The NGO currently provides sanitation and water services in nearly 80 camps in north-western Syria, benefiting nearly 30,000 displaced people. Its teams distribute hygiene kits, treat and distribute drinking water, collect waste, install pipes and sewers, and build and rehabilitate latrines. At the same time, it promotes health.
 

Covid worsens an already desperate humanitarian situation

The poor health situation and the saturation of the infrastructure is worsening with the development of Covid-19, recently forcing the transfer of patients hospitalised in Damascus and Latakia to other provinces of the country. This year, a first vaccination campaign was launched in collaboration with the UN and the Covax programme to ensure equitable access to the vaccine. But only in areas controlled by the regime and in the Kurdish-dominated north-east.

According to the Syrian Ministry of Health, the number of infected people has been increasing since mid-August 2021. It has risen from fifty to more than 300 cases per day. The Minister of Health, Taoufic Hassaba, even acknowledged on Syrian television, "this is the first time the number of cases has reached 400." In the Idleb region, daily cases would reach 1,500 compared to fifty to 100 in early August 2021. The increasing number of PCR tests would explain, according to the Syrian government, these sudden increases. "The limited access to water also hinders the ability of the population to respect the hygiene measures essential for the prevention and treatment of the virus," insists Ibrahim Mughlaj.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CSSE of Johns Hopkins University has counted 33,640 confirmed cases in Syria and 2,227 deaths. An estimated 533,949 doses have been administered and only 248,862 Syrians are reported to have received a full course of the vaccine, representing 1.46% of the population.

A global humanitarian response plan for Syria worth $4.2 billion does exist, but "only 27% of the response is funded", the UN said. "Even if this total increases in the coming months, thanks to the response and the generosity of donors - which I hope it will - funding is not keeping pace with the growing needs of Syrians. This is a fundamental and objective reality," comments Martin Griffiths. For him, "Syria is caught in a downward spiral (...) The country will continue to be a place of tragedy, as long as the conflict continues."



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