UK Support for Humanitarian Relief in the Middle East - International Development Committee Contents

2  Humanitarian situation in Syria

5. According to UN estimates there are presently 9.3 million people within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, including 6.5 million who are internally displaced.

Humanitarian access

6. Of the 9.3 million people in Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, approximately 3.5 million are in "hard-to-reach" areas.[4] Between 22 April and 19 May this year, 12.6% of all hard-to-reach locations received aid, including food aid from WFP, UNRWA and UNICEF as well as some non-food items.[5]

7. Some areas of Syria are currently under siege: the Minister of State told us that Syrian Government forces were using "siege, starvation and surrender tactics".[6] At present 196,000 people are besieged by Government forces in Madamiyet Elsham, eastern Ghouta, Darayya and Yarmouk;[7] the siege of the Old City of Homs ended in May.[8] In addition, 45,000 are besieged by opposition forces in Zahra and Nubul.[9] Between 22 April and 19 May, only a very small proportion of the besieged population received aid: 6.9% received food and nutrition support, 4.1% received water and sanitation assistance, and 6% received medicines.[10]

8. WFP reports that many drivers are unwilling to travel to the most insecure areas,[11] whilst the International Rescue Committee (IRC) highlights the risk of humanitarian workers being detained or kidnapped or of goods being confiscated.[12] The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) reports that in opposition-controlled areas, foreign aid workers are threatened and kidnappings are common.[13]

9. Denial of humanitarian access may represent a breach of international law.[14] In his evidence to us, Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director of WFP, summarised the challenges his organisation is facing in respect of access:

    I would say that we basically operate in four areas. The first is clear regime control, where access is possibly easier, for somebody from the Damascus side. Then, there are areas that are clearly under control of a party with whom we can negotiate and get permission to go; those we are reaching. Then, there are areas where the control is not clear, and we try to operate in those areas. There are, unfortunately, areas that are controlled by groups such as al-Nusra, ISIS, ISIL and others, who very clearly have said they do not want anything like the United Nations or international humanitarian relief.[15]

10. In addition to the difficulties in accessing opposition-controlled areas, many organisations are prevented from operating in Government-controlled areas. The Syrian Government has given just fifteen NGOs permission to operate in the country.[16] Even once permission is obtained, many obstacles remain: the Norwegian Refugee Council reports that whilst it was given permission in February 2013, it took until December 2013 to obtain visas for its staff.[17] HelpAge International reports that whilst the Government of Syria recently issued 50 visas to humanitarian workers, these were valid only for a short period of time and for a limited number of entries.[18]

11. On 22 February 2014, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2139 (2014), which addresses the question of humanitarian access in Syria. The resolution demands that "all parties, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners, including across conflict lines and across borders, in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people in need through the most direct routes." In the Resolution the Security Council also requests the Secretary-General to "report to the Council on the implementation of this resolution […] in 30 days of its adoption and every 30 days thereafter", and expresses its intention to "take further steps in the case of non-compliance with this resolution."[19]

12. The Security Council had previously issued a Presidential Statement addressing the same issues, but this made little difference in practice.[20] In his evidence Nigel Pont, Mercy Corps' Regional Director for the Middle East, drew a comparison between humanitarian workers and weapons inspectors, and pointed out that whilst the former faced innumerable access restrictions, the latter had faced no such constraints.[21]

13. Some witnesses were cautiously optimistic that the Resolution might lead to substantial improvements. Amir Abdulla said:

    "I think there is, to be very clear, a huge legal and binding difference between a presidential statement and a Security Council resolution. We have to take the fact that a resolution has been passed as a significant step forward. A resolution is binding."[22]

Maria Calivis, UNICEF's Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, was also strongly supportive of the resolution, and stressed the need to ensure it was implemented consistently. [23]

14. However, Amir Abdulla went on to sound a more cautious note:

    One of the concerns we do have, though, is that the resolution itself does recognise the territorial integrity of Syria. It is in the preamble and opening. If Syria chooses to take that to mean, "Any border that we do not control contravenes our territorial integrity," we may still be in a difficult situation. As if it is not complicated enough, there is a further complication. Several of the border crossings that one would need to use are now controlled by al-Nusra and ISIS, who do not recognise the United Nations or the Security Council resolution.[24]

Similarly, the Minister of State told us that the resolution had made little difference, with the Syrian regime continuing to obstruct the delivery of aid. [25] In his most recent monthly report, the Secretary General reports that the situation in respect of humanitarian access has in fact deteriorated further.[26]

15. On 15 May 2014 the Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, said:

    The Syrian regime's refusal to allow humanitarian agencies to deliver aid is clearly a breach of international humanitarian law and it is vital that further steps are taken to address this. We will strongly support a new UN Security Council Resolution referring the Syrian regime to the International Criminal Court.[27]

DFID's spending

16. Since the crisis began, DFID has allocated £249.1 million for humanitarian assistance within Syria.[28] The table below indicates how this money is being spent.

Organisation Funding allocation (£m)
UN World Food Programme (WFP) 72.2
UN Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) 15.8
UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) 15.6
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 10.7
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 9.0
World Health Organisation (WHO) 8.0
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 7.0
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 4.7
UN Population Fund (UNFPA) 3.0
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 2.3
UN Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS) 0.5
Undisclosed humanitarian agencies, not named for security reasons (operating outside of the UN led response) 98.6
In kind contributions 1.7
Total 249.1

Source: adapted from DFID, UK Aid Syria Response (June 2014), p 4

Amir Abdulla told us that:

    this operation costs on the order of $42 million per week. However, that reaches about 6 million people. Rounded up, that translates to $1 a day - 65p per day - which is a lot less than you would spend on a cup of coffee - to deliver food in what is basically a war zone.[29]

17. DFID intends to deliver around 50% of its aid to Syria from across international borders. The Minister of State told us that whilst he held UN organisations in high-regard, their cross-border aid work had left something to be desired; DFID therefore planned to deliver more of its assistance through NGOs than it had done previously.[30] The Minister of State also said:

    Let me highlight one thing that is important above all: all of the people who are delivering aid inside Syria are in serious danger and over 40 have been killed. These are the heroes of the hour, who go on to the front line and across it in order to deliver aid.[31]

18. The scale of humanitarian need in Syria is vast. A wide range of organisations—UN organisations and others—are working in Syria in extremely dangerous circumstances. Organisations such as WFP, which is able to deliver food assistance for around 65p per person per day, are providing exceptional value for money. We commend the brave men and women working on the ground in Syria to provide humanitarian assistance. We were interested to hear that DFID was considering delivering more of its assistance through NGOs.

19. We warmly welcome the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2139 (2014). In view of the manifest failure of last October's UN Security Council Presidential Statement, a Resolution was the only option. We are nevertheless concerned that certain parties may not abide by the resolution: groups such as al-Nusra and ISIS do not recognise the UN. We are also concerned about the bureaucratic restrictions which prevent NGOs from delivering humanitarian assistance in Syria. Where NGOs are ready, willing and able to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance, the Government should use every means possible to help them to obtain permission to operate in Syria, and to help their staff to obtain visas.

4   UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2139 (2014) (May 2014), para 17 Back

5   Ibid., para 19 Back

6   Q 134 Back

7   UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2139 (2014) (May 2014), para 21 Back

8   Q 134 Back

9   UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2139 (2014) (May 2014), para 21 Back

10   Ibid., para 22 Back

11   World Food Programme (MID0060) para 14 Back

12   International Rescue Committee (MID0061) para 11 Back

13   Norwegian Refugee Council (MID0059) para 3 Back

14   DFID (MID0053) para 20 Back

15   Q 5 Back

16   International Rescue Committee (MID0061) para 12 Back

17   Norwegian Refugee Council (MID0059) para 3 Back

18   HelpAge International (MID0056) para 2.2 Back

19   UN Security Council, Resolution 2139 (2014) (Feb 2014) Back

20   Ibid. Back

21   Q 11 Back

22   Q 7 Back

23   Q 66 Back

24   Q 7 Back

25   Q 134 Back

26   UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2139 (2014) (May 2014), para 18 Back

27   "Greening: access to humanitarian aid needed in Syria", DFID press notice, 15 May 2014 Back

28   DFID, UK Aid Syria Response (June 2014), p 4 Back

29   Q 22 Back

30   Q 129 Back

31   Ibid. Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 2 July 2014