UN Humanitarian Chief horrified by 'total disrespect for civilian life' in Syria
The United Nations Humanitarian Chief and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Stephen O’Brien, concluded a three-day visit to Syria on August 17, warning that this protracted conflict in Syria not only severely affects the lives of millions of people, but also threatens the stability of the region and beyond.
A violent aerial bombardment on the market area of eastern Ghouta on August 12, 2015, killed at least 70 civilians (Photo: Amer AlMohipany/NurPhoto/Rex)
During the visit, ERC O’Brien visited Homs, where he saw the impact of intense fighting and met families who had recently returned.
“In Homs I saw with my own eyes inestimable human suffering. In the Old City, I saw the complete destruction of almost every home, beyond which lies the destruction of lives. Behind every window of every destroyed home, we must remember that there were people whose lives have been shattered, like the family of Ahmed who I sat with to hear his harrowing story amid all this violence and destruction. Above all, he wanted peace in his country,” he said.
Civilians have borne the brunt of this conflict for over four years. Over 220,000 people have been killed, more than a million injured and almost half of the population displaced.
“Attacks on civilians are unlawful, unacceptable and must stop. I am particularly appalled about reports of yesterday’s airstrikes, causing scores of civilian deaths and hundreds injured, right in the centre of Douma, a besieged part of Damascus. I am horrified by the total disrespect for civilian life in this conflict. I appeal to each and every party to this protracted conflict to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law,” said O’Brien.
Owing to cuts by non-State armed groups, at least five million people in Damascus have been without water for three days, the third time this year they have undergone this suffering. Elsewhere in Syria, two million people in Aleppo have been deprived of their water supply for 17 days, while 300,000 people in Dar’a and surrounding villages endured water cuts seven times this year. “It is unacceptable for those engaged in conflict to use access to water and other services as a weapon of war,” O’Brien noted.
After meeting senior government officials in Damascus, O’Brien said he had had constructive discussions on ways to strengthen humanitarian aid operations, and hoped that concrete steps would now be taken.
“The United Nations and our partners are providing assistance to millions of Syrians in need, including by crossing conflict lines and international borders. However, I remain extremely concerned for the welfare of the 4.6 million people stuck in hard-to-reach and besieged areas,” he said. “Freedom of movement for all people trying to flee the violence and conflict must be ensured by all parties.”
O’Brien expressed his admiration for the committed and courageous humanitarian workers who are staying and delivering assistance, despite the numerous challenges they face. Noting deep concern about the lack of funding for humanitarian operations in Syria and the region, which are less than 30 per cent funded, he is calling on the international community to step up to the appeal for resources to fund the essential life-saving and protection work needed across Syria urgently.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs