Our National Famine commemoration, as well as marking a very tragic and deeply important part of our history, also serves as an opportunity to remind ourselves that famine is still a contemporary issue in the world today, affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people who live with food insecurity and hunger. One such example is Syria where the protracted and tragic conflict has resulted in unprecedented levels of humanitarian need. Access to food, water, electricity and medical supplies has been interrupted in areas witnessing armed activities. A growing number of family breadwinners have become unemployed and soaring food and fuel prices across the country have exacerbated the situation. As the number of fatalities surpasses an estimated 150,000 people, there are now over 9.3 million people within Syria who are in need of immediate life-saving support, with a further 2.8 million Syrian refugees requiring assistance in neighbouring countries. The conflict has been characterised by ongoing and persistent violations, by all parties to the conflict, of international humanitarian and human rights law, including the denial of humanitarian access to those in need. UN Security Council Resolution 2139, adopted in February 2014, expressly demands that all parties – and, in particular the Syrian authorities, promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, including across conflict lines and borders, to ensure humanitarian assistance reaches people in need. The Resolution further calls upon all parties to lift the sieges of populated areas and recalls the prohibition under international humanitarian law of the starvation of civilians as an instrument of combat.
The second Report of the UN Secretary General on the implementation of this Resolution, presented to the Security Council on 23 April, highlighted the ongoing issue of limited humanitarian access, despite the related demands made to both the Syrian Government and armed opposition groups and noted that none of the parties to the conflict have adhered to the demands of the Council. In her subsequent briefing to the Security Council, UN Under-Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, noted that, in the two months since the adoption of the Resolution, ‘far from getting better, the situation is getting worse’. USG Amos noted, in particular, the continued denial of humanitarian access to populations in need by all parties to the conflict.
Despite the immense constraints on their operations, humanitarian agencies continue to work to provide life-saving assistance to the beleaguered Syrian population. In a one month period between March and April, food assistance for 4.1 million people was dispatched by the World Food Programme, an increase of 11% on the previous month. However, obstacles to humanitarian access in besieged and hard-to-reach areas – home to almost 4 million of Syria’s citizens – only allowed for the delivery of food assistance to some 300,000 people.
For our part, Ireland has been to the fore in the international efforts to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and we are one of the most generous contributors to the humanitarian response on a per capita basis. In view of the immense needs in Syria and neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees, I announced Ireland’s pledge of a further €12 million in humanitarian assistance at the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria and region in Kuwait on January 15th 2014, bringing Ireland’s overall funding commitment to Syria and the region over the period 2011 to 2014 amounts to over €26 million.
I have already approved the release of €9 million towards this pledge, bringing our contribution to date to over €23 million. Of this €9 million, almost €4 million is for operations within Syria, of which almost €3 million is specifically for food assistance.
Ireland has consistently matched our material humanitarian contribution with concrete support to international efforts to find a sustainable political solution to the crisis, and to advocate for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access. We have called for all parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law and to refrain from the targeting of civilians. On 22 May, Ireland joined with our EU partners, as well as a number of other UN Member States, in co-sponsoring a Security Council Resolution to refer the conflict in Syria to the International Criminal Court to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ireland will continue to advocate at all relevant international fora for increased support to the humanitarian relief, as well as for the full and immediate implementation by all parties to the conflict of UN Security Council Resolution 2139 on humanitarian assistance in Syria.