Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Questions (21)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

21. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the situation regarding UN aid not reaching all intended areas most in need of aid in Syria; his views on Kenneth Roth's executive director of Human Rights Watch response that the UN is constrained by the Syrian regime and is hampered by its lawyers who prioritise sovereignty over feeding the starving; the action he will take to ensure that Irish aid money, most of which is sent to the UN, is being delivered in areas of most acute need in opposition controlled areas in Syria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28134/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The protracted and tragic crisis in Syria has resulted in unprecedented levels of humanitarian need, with over 10.8 million people within Syria in need of immediate life-saving support and 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 across border, to ensure humanitarian assistance reaches people in need.

In his fourth report on the implementation of this Resolution, presented to the Security Council on 20 June, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon highlighted the lack of progress and ongoing deterioration in the humanitarian situation, particularly around the issue of sustained humanitarian access to those in hard-to-reach areas. The current estimated population in areas that are difficult or impossible for humanitarian organisations to reach has risen to 4.7 million people. This includes at least 241,000 people who live in areas that are besieged by either Government or opposition forces. Only 33 of the 262 locations identified as being hard to reach or besieged were reached with food and nutrition assistance, and non-food items were provided for just 269,000 people in these areas.

I am aware of the views expressed by the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. I believe that negotiated access remains the most effective approach. Despite the challenging and dangerous operational environment on the ground, humanitarian agencies including the UN remain committed and prepared to scale up operations and provide life-saving assistance to men, women and children in need throughout the country.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos has confirmed that nearly 3.3 million people received food assistance from the World Food Programme and partners in May; more than 16 million people were assisted with clean drinking water through the provision of chlorination tablets by UNICEF and partners; around 2.9 million children were vaccinated against polio in the latest round; 2.3 million people received critically needed non-food items from UNHCR and its partners; and 4 million people received medical assistance by WHO and partners in the first five months of 2014. Regardless of these very considerable achievements, the fact remains that humanitarian access across Syria is exceptionally difficult as a result of increasing disregard by armed groups on both sides of the conflict of their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.

Ireland has been to the fore in the international efforts to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and is one of the most generous contributors to the humanitarian response on a per capita basis. Ireland has already exceeded our pledge of €12 million in support throughout 2014 by €2 million, bringing our overall funding commitment since the crisis began to €28.011 million. Irish humanitarian assistance is provided not just through UN agencies but also through the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement as well as trusted NGO partners operating in different parts of the country, including in opposition-held areas. 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, as well as for respect by all parties of International Humanitarian Law. We are saving lives through our support to those most affected by the conflict. Ireland will continue to use every opportunity to advocate for the full and immediate implementation by all parties to the conflict of UN Security Council Resolution 2139 on humanitarian assistance in Syria.