One Million Syrians in Need of Humanitarian Assistance

Human Wrongs Watch

With 22,8 million inhabitants, at least one million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the findings of a government-led assessment mission jointly carried out with the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). 

A young Syrian refugee with his brother in Jordan. The boys fled Syria with their parents. Photo: UNHCR/S. Malkawi

Those in need include people directly affected by the ongoing violence, such as the injured and internally displaced persons, and those of have lost access to essential services and host families, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a summary of the assessment, according to a UN report released on 29 March.
Priority needs identified in the assessment include protection, food, medical assistance, non-food items, such as beddings and household essentials, and education.
Syrian Government Knows
Technical staff from eight UN agencies participated in the assessment, which concluded on Monday [26 March], as well as three staff from the OIC. The team visited Aleppo, Ar Roqqa, Dara’a, Dayr Az Zor, Hama, Homs, Idlib, Lattakia, Rural Damascus and Tartous governorates.
The analysis has already been shared with the Syrian Government.

Information was gathered from civilians, government officials, religious and community leaders, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), and local non-governmental organizations. While some areas could not be accessed due to ongoing insecurity or time constraints, the mission’s members were able to visit opposition-held neighbourhoods, according to OCHA.

Food, Blankets, Hygiene Kits

Syria’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs has approved the delivery of assistance in coordination with the SARC. An initial convoy carrying food, blankets and hygiene kits for 2,000 displaced families left Damascus for the Tartous Governorate yesterday. Delivery is expected to begin tomorrow and further distributions are planned in other locations.

OCHA said that humanitarian efforts must remain completely separate from any political agenda and that UN agencies will continue to ensure the neutrality, independence and impartiality of their humanitarian work. The assessment report also encouraged donors to contribute to the newly established Emergency Response Fund for Syria.

Urging Assad to Implement UN-Arab League Plan

On 28 March, Un Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to implement a six-point plan put forward recently to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in the country.

“I strongly urge President Assad of Syria to put those commitments into immediate effect. There is no time to waste,” Ban said at a press briefing in Kuwait City.

The Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for Syria, Kofi Annan, submitted the plan during his visit to Damascus earlier this month. It seeks to stop the violence and the killing, give access to humanitarian agencies, release detainees, and kick-start an inclusive political dialogue.

The UN estimates that more than 8,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising – part of the broader Arab Spring movement across North Africa and the Middle East – began in March last year.

Cultural Heritage at Great Risk

Meanwhile, the Director-General of UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, called for the protection of Syria’s cultural legacy, citing media reports that have indicated possible damage to precious sites during the ongoing conflict.

“I wish to express my grave concern about possible damage to precious sites and to call upon all those involved in the conflict to ensure the protection of the outstanding cultural legacy that Syria hosts on its soil,” said Bokova. “Damage to the heritage of the country is damage to the soul of its people and its identity.”

A succession of cultures in what is now Syria left an outstanding wealth of archaeological sites, historic cities, cultural landscapes, monuments and works of art that bear witness to the evolution of human ingenuity, according to UNESCO.

Six Syrian sites – Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra, Bosra, the Crac des Chevaliers and Saladin’s Castle, the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria – are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Many others are inscribed on the country’s Tentative List, such as Apamea – where a number of journalists have reported that the Citadel of Madiq has been bombarded. The so-called Tentative List is an inventory of those properties which a country intends to consider for nomination to the World Heritage List.

Earlier this year, UNESCO reminded the Syrian authorities, through the country’s representative to the agency, of their responsibility to ensure the protection of cultural heritage.

“Situation Becoming More Crucial by the Hour”

“This situation is becoming more crucial by the hour,” said Bokova. “I urge the Syrian authorities to respect the international Conventions they have signed, in particular the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict, the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and the World Heritage Convention.”

The UNESCO chief has contacted the World Customs Organization, the international police organization INTERPOL, and the specialized heritage police of France and Italy to alert them to objects from Syria that could appear on the international antiquities market.

“UNESCO stands ready to assist in assessing reports of damage to the cultural heritage of Syria, including the World Heritage sites, and in preparing plans for their safeguarding, as soon as this becomes possible,” she added.

Read also:

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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