Three senior UN officials underscored the need for a political solution to end the war in Syria, in statements marking the 12th anniversary of the conflict on Wednesday.
For UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, this was an opportunity to remember the countless lives lost, and recall the abuses and suffering of millions, including those who have been forcibly displaced, or who remain arbitrarily detained, disappeared and missing.
War cannot endure
“The situation in Syria is untenable and to carry on in the same manner, defies humanity and logic,” he said.
Furthermore, the challenges faced in responding to the deadly earthquakes last month “were a stark reminder that the status quo is unsustainable and indefensible,” he added.
‘Depoliticise’ earthquake relief
Northern Syria and southern Türkiye were struck by earthquakes on 6 February, which killed more than 50,000 people across both countries and caused widespread devastation.
Close to nine million people in Syria have been affected, with the worst damage occurring in the northwest, the last opposition stronghold.
Mr. Pedersen stressed the “collective humanitarian imperative to depoliticise relief efforts”, highlighting the need for access via all modalities, generous resources, and sustained calm.
Political solution necessary
“But we cannot limit our collective efforts to the humanitarian response alone. Syria is devastated, divided, and impoverished, in an active state of conflict, its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity compromised,” he said.
“Without a comprehensive political solution to resolve these issues, one that restores Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and enables the Syrian people to live in dignity and chart their own future, Syrians’ pain will endure.”
Possible ‘turning point’
The envoy said the earthquakes “can be a turning point”, as evidenced by recent “humanitarian steps from all sides that have moved beyond previous positions, even if temporarily.”
“We need to see the same logic applied on the political front, to help find a way forward,” he said, referring to actions such as step-for-step confidence building measures, resuming and substantively advancing constitutional talks, and working towards a nationwide ceasefire.
Untold losses, record needs
Meanwhile, two of the UN’s top aid officials focused on the untold suffering the Syrian people have endured since the war began, including loss of life, livelihood, home and hope.
The joint statement was issued by the interim UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, El-Mostafa Benlamlih, and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Muhannad Hadi.
“Syria remains one of the world’s most complex humanitarian and protection emergencies with 15.3 million people across the country assessed to be in need of humanitarian assistance this year — the highest number of people in need since the onset of the conflict,” they said.
Struggling to survive
Syria is also among the largest displacement crises in the world. Some 6.8 million people have been uprooted inside the country, many several times over, and roughly just as many are living as refugees abroad.
Additionally, millions of Syrians are being pushed to the brink of survival amid the collapse of basic services, an ongoing cholera outbreak, spiralling food and energy prices, and economic crisis.
The earthquake has only added “yet another layer of tragedy and despair”, they said.
Aid is not enough
The UN officials underlined the humanitarian community’s full commitment to continue to assist people across Syria, and its support for resilience and early recovery efforts.
“Humanitarian assistance, however, is not sufficient or sustainable,” they said.
“There must be a durable and comprehensive solution to end the conflict in Syria. All stakeholders must show the determination to continue pursuing lasting peace for the Syrian people to rebuild their devastated lives.”
Child malnutrition rising
The ongoing war and the earthquakes have left millions of young Syrians at heightened risk of malnutrition, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Wednesday.
Close to 13,000 boys and girls have been killed since the conflict began, the agency added.
UNICEF estimated that some 609,000 Syrian children under the age of five are stunted, a condition that results from chronic undernutrition and which causes irreversible physical and mental damage.
Acute malnutrition is also on the rise. The number of young children suffering from severe acute malnutrition increased by nearly 50 per cent from 2021 to 2022.
“When children suffer from acute malnutrition, their immune system weakens, and they are 11 times more likely to die than well-nourished children,” UNICEF explained.
Children cannot wait
Syrian families are also struggling to make ends meet due to soaring prices and the economic crisis, with nearly 90 per cent of the population living in poverty.
“The children of Syria cannot wait any longer. After years of conflict, and two catastrophic earthquakes, the futures of millions of children hang by a thread,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“It is our collective responsibility to reaffirm to children that their future is our priority too.”