The fifth year of the Syria conflict has been the worst yet for people as warring parties have continued to wreak havoc, increasingly block aid and place more communities under siege.
Russia, the United States, France and the United Kingdom must now safeguard the glimmer of hope that the ceasefire has brought to civilians, rather than “adding fuel to the fire”, warns Oxfam in a new report along with 30 other aid agencies.
These four countries – all members of the UN Security Council and the International Syria Support Group – could be key players in helping end the suffering in Syria. Instead they have to varying degrees undermined their own resolutions through inadequate diplomatic pressure, political and military support to their allies or direct military action.
The report, Fuelling the Fire, catalogues the deteriorating conditions in Syria, as the country has plunged into further chaos and fragmentation. It has been signed by 30 humanitarian and human rights organisations including Oxfam, Norwegian Refugee Council, CARE International, and Syrian organisations – The Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), Big Heart, and Syria Relief and Development.
As the fragile ceasefire that came into effect at the end of February holds, Syrians are still reeling from the worst year so far. The report highlights that in the last year:
- There was a sharp escalation of violence – including Russian airstrikes, which according to the UN led to the death of an estimated 2,300 people in November alone
- At least 50,000 more people have been killed
- 1.5 million more people are in need of humanitarian aid
- Almost a million people have been forced to flee their homes
- The UN estimates that the number of people living in besieged areas has doubled to almost 500,000. Syrian organizations say it is many more
- 200,000 houses have been partly or completely destroyed, a 20% increase on 2014
- An additional 400,000 children are out of school, bringing the total to over two million
- 44% increase in attacks on hospitals and health facilities
“The test facing world leaders is tremendous. They have to ensure that the people with guns, the same people many of them have armed, finally stop the shooting. They need to follow up with a comprehensive political process that brings an end to this five-year-old tragedy that blots our humanity. Our hope is that the momentum of good will we’ve seen in the last days will lead to bigger things for the people of Syria”, said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“The last five years have seen the deaths of more than 700 medical workers in Syria. 2015 saw the highest number of attacks on hospitals in a single year with at least 112 attacks on medical facilities. We hope recent events will mean an end to empty statements and condemnations, and instead an effective stand by the international community to allow doctors to do their job and to keep Syrians alive, free of sieges and with continued effective access to medical treatment”, said Dr Ahmad Tarakji, President of SAMS.
“The last year was the most miserable yet for Syrians. While the failure to end the terrible violence must primarily rest with those involved in the fighting, their international backers also have a responsibility to safeguard hope rather than fuel the fire. They have to decide whether they are committed to ending this catastrophe or to continuing its escalation. We have seen the impact of airstrikes, now it is time to see the impact of diplomatic pressure in bringing peace to Syria,” said Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB.
Despite increasing needs, it has been harder than ever to get aid to the most desperate. Restrictions on aid access across government lines in Syria have meant that only 10% of UN convoys have got through. While aid convoys are now reaching some besieged communities, bringing some temporary relief to hundreds of thousands of civilians, huge swathes of Syria remain without adequate assistance as aid agencies continue to be blocked, attacked or harassed by all warring sides.
“The undermining of commitments designed to protect Syrians must end. As well as insisting on respect for the ceasefire and an end to all attacks on civilians, UN Security Council members must hold to account those who break international law, and halt the indiscriminate use of weapons with wide area-effects in populated areas. Equally vital is to press for access to besieged areas so those most in need can be reached,” said Wolfgang Jamann, Secretary General of CARE International.
With some 200,000 people still trapped in Deir Ez Zor with no aid, and goods only now trickling into other besieged areas such as Madaya, access to besieged communities remains limited. On average in 2015, the UN managed to get health assistance to just 3.5% of those living in besieged communities, and food to less than 1%.