“Don’t forget Syria again” as crisis enters its thirteenth year

Amman, Jordan, March 15th 2023 – As Syria’s crisis enters its thirteenth year, the human cost associated with over a decade of conflict and instability continues to rise. Conflict has brought with it economic destitution, the destruction of basic services and infrastructure, and more recently the first cholera outbreak in Syria in thirteen years.

Over a month since a massive earthquake struck Türkiye and Syria, the devastating scale of crisis upon crisis inside Syria has come into sharp relief. In the northwest of Syria, over 4,500 have lost their lives, thousands have become homeless, and further damage has been wreaked on services, infrastructure, homes, and livelihoods already decimated by a decade of violence.

Even before this latest tragedy, some 15.3 million people — 70 per cent of the country’s population — needed humanitarian assistance. Despite this, 2022 saw the largest funding gap for the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan since the conflict began, with only 49% of needs funded last year and more than $2.2 billion funding needs unmet.

As well as a lack of funding, humanitarian access to the northwest of the country, the area worst affected by the earthquake and where more than 4 million people were already reliant on cross-border assistance, remains a concern. A week after the initial earthquake the UN Emergency Relief Chief secured an agreement to open two new crossings to the UN for a period of 3 months. These were in addition to the one crossing at Bab al Hawa already authorised for UN use by the UN Security Council. Since the two additional crossings were opened more than 600 UN trucks have crossed Turkiye-Syria border. However, with the scale of needs still astronomical and both modalities set to expire by July unless renewed, the need to ensure both secure and predictable assistance for at least another 12 months remains imperative.

As Syria marks yet another year of conflict and worsening crisis, the IRC is calling on the international community to:

  • Ensure that the UN Flash Appeals for Syria and Turkiye, set up after the earthquake and calling for $397 million and $1 billion respectively, are fully funded when donor’s meet at the International Donors’ Conference for the people in Türkiye and Syria in Brussels on 20th March.
  • Sufficiently fund the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, recognising both the increasingly severe immediate needs that must be addressed, as well as the supporting early recovery and sustainable medium-term interventions.
  • Ensure that the UN Security Council reauthorises the provisions of the cross-border Resolution 2672 for a minimum of 12 months in July 2023 to avoid a major worsening of the humanitarian situation, while also expanding all other viable routes to those in need of humanitarian assistance.
  • Prioritise the protection of civilians, humanitarian actors and civilian infrastructure by reaffirming the importance of adherence to international humanitarian law and strengthening efforts to hold perpetrators of IHL violations in Syria to account.

Tanya Evans, the IRC’s Country Director in Syria, said:

“Another year and we are once again confronted with a record number of people in need inside Syria. Yet despite both needs and vulnerabilities continuing to grow, funding is again failing to keep pace. This year’s Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (2023 HRP) is the largest humanitarian appeal worldwide, requiring $4.8 billion to address just the needs that already existed before last month’s devastating earthquakes. While the vast sums reflect both the scale and gravity of the situation for ordinary families across Syria, today the 2023 HRP is only 5% funded.”

“Our teams and partners in the northwest, some of the first to respond to the earthquake, continue to respond to the devastating situation lived daily by families who have now endured more than 12 years of conflict. Among the many lessons that the ongoing earthquake response continues to highlight is the imperative for the international community to show genuine solidarity with humanitarian actors by ensuring their access to additional, appropriate, and flexible funding.”

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC said:

“Syrians in the country and refugees beyond its border have paid a heavy price for the loss of attention by the international community. The earthquake in February was a reminder that a forgotten crisis is not a resolved crisis. It exposed the graphic truth about life for those left stranded by the war: they are at the mercy of events, trapped by circumstance and vulnerable to shocks.

“The difficulties getting life-saving aid into northwest Syria at speed and scale following last month’s massive earthquake once again demonstrates the need for sustained, predictable and unfettered humanitarian access to millions of Syrians who have now lived through 12 years of conflict, as well as a once-in-a-century natural disaster. A recent agreement to open to the UN two additional border crossing points in the northwest has significantly helped aid efforts at a time of immense need. But with this agreement set to expire in May, and the UN Security Council’s Cross-Border Mechanism also due to expire shortly after in July, the threat to cross-border operations once again looms large. If anything, the last month has been proof positive that cross-border aid remains the only viable means to ensure those in need in the northwest are not left behind.

“The humanitarian track needs energy and funding. Limbo is no lifestyle for millions in the Northwest. Survival is success in the wake of the earthquake, but it represents no vision for the future. For that we need recovery that deals with the realities on the ground. Civilians continue to be exposed to deadly attacks yet front lines remain largely frozen. Families need to rebuild their lives and to break free from the cycle of poverty and suffering. That takes recovery of key infrastructure and services, helping sustainably improve the lives of millions of ordinary Syrians in the months ahead.”