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Syria’s Last Cross-border Aid Lifeline Must Stay Open, Insist UN Humanitarians


The imminent closure of the last cross-border aid
lifeline to northwest Syria must be postponed beyond the 10
July deadline, UN humanitarians said on Friday, noting that
no cross-line supplies had reached Idlib from Damascus, in
11 months.

World Food Programme (WFP)
spokesperson Tomson Phiri said that the renewal of the UN
resolution allowing cross-border operation was critical,
since “millions of lives are at stake”.

Lifeline
for 2.4 million

Speaking in Geneva during a regular
briefing, Mr. Phiri explained that 2.4 million people
“depend entirely on cross-border assistance for their
basic needs including food. The majority of these people are
women and children, many of whom have been displaced
multiple times.”

The development follows an appeal
by UN Secretary-General António
Guterres
to the Security
Council
on Wednesday to continue to allow convoys to
pass through the Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey for
another year.

“A failure to extend the Council’s
authorization would have devastating consequences”, said
Mr. Guterres, highlighting that cross-line aid assistance
“at present levels” could not replace the quantities
that were delivered cross-border.

World’s biggest
aid operation

More than 1,000 trucks have transported
food, medicine and other items through the Bab al-Hawa
border crossing each month over the past year, as part of a
wider UN humanitarian operation that is the biggest in the
world.

Around $10 billion is needed to support people
affected by the conflict, whether in the country or as
refugees across the region.

Inside Syria, needs are
massive and growing, however.

“Today, an estimated
12.4 million Syrians are food insecure and this amounts to
nearly 60 per cent of the population who do not know what
they will eat tomorrow. This is an increase of 4.5 million
people in only one year,” said Mr. Phiri.

Most
vulnerable

Those living in Idlib in Syria’s
northwest – which is the last opposition stronghold after
more than a decade of war – are among the most
vulnerable.

“Of greatest concern today is northwest
Syria, where nearly 30 per cent of the people WFP assists, live”, Mr.
Phiri explained. “Similarly, 30 per cent of the food WFP
ships into Syria is through the single remaining border
crossing.”

The Bab al-Hawa crossing from Turkey is
the last of four cross-border passages still open, after a
2014 UN Security Council resolution
authorising humanitarian aid into opposition-held areas of
Syria.

COVID-19 threat only one of
many

Spokesperson Christian Lindmeier from the World
Health Organization (WHO)
underscored the likely consequences for Idlib’s already
weakened population if cross-border authorisation is not
renewed: “It would not be possible to roll out reliable
COVID vaccinations to the population and other campaigns to
vaccinate children as well as other essential health
activities including lifesaving care for chronic
non-communicable diseases.”

“The COVID-19 response
is heavily reliant on the UN including the vaccination
roll-out,” he added. “The UN-supported COVAX
mechanism is the only option for access to vaccines in the
area, yet less than 0.58 per cent of the population has
received one dose.”

The WHO spokesperson also
insisted that cross-line convoys “even if deployed
regularly would not replicate the size and scope of this
(cross-border) operation. Despite significant continuing
efforts by the UN, we have not yet managed to create the
conditions to deploy the first cross-line convoy to
north-west Syria and no cross-line convoys have crossed into
north-west Syria from Damascus in the last 11
months.”

Falling further into debt

Securing
enough food to eat inside Syria is a daily struggle, and
families are now buying food on credit, WFP’s Mr. Phiri
said.

“Food prices continue to rise and have
increased by 247 per cent food price increase in the last
year alone; families have exhausted their savings after
years of conflict and are unable to afford basic
meals.”

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