Top officials from the United Nations on Tuesday called on the Security Council to provide strong support for Syria after a devastating earthquake struck on Feb. 6.
UN officials said there is a need for robust support for ongoing emergency efforts and a bold plan to ensure lasting recovery and reconciliation in Syria.
Briefing the 15-member body on the current situation, UN relief chief Martin Griffiths described the earthquakes’ aftermath in Syria and Türkiye, which killed at least 50,000 and left many more injured, tens of thousands of people missing and hundreds of thousands homeless.
Reflecting on the scale and gravity of needs across Syria, he said the 2023 response plan would require 4.8 billion U.S. dollars, the largest humanitarian appeal currently active.
Strong aftershocks again hit the worst-affected area in Syria on Monday. Griffiths said even before this latest tragedy, some 15.3 million people, or 70 percent of the country’s population, needed humanitarian assistance stemming from the country’s ongoing civil war.
“Many people are afraid to return to their homes,” he said, recalling a visit to quake-affected areas, where hundreds of buildings are still at high risk of collapsing, with thousands more that may need demolishing.
The risk of disease is growing amid pre-existing cholera outbreaks. At the same time, food prices are skyrocketing, while women and children face increased harassment, violence and risk of exploitation, according to Griffiths.
The UN has dispatched more than 423 trucks carrying critical supplies for more than one million victims since Feb. 9. Griffiths praised the Syrian government for opening the borders for aid deliveries. Many more deliveries are planned in the weeks ahead, he added.
Meanwhile, he said his office released 40 million U.S. dollars from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is mobilizing to help partners to expand operations.
A flash appeal calls for 397.6 million U.S. dollars to meet the most critical needs over the next three months, he said, adding that the forthcoming donor conference in Brussels will be a “pivotal moment for our response” in both Syria and Türkiye.
“We know what needs to be done to provide affected people with dignified living conditions and stave off a worsening crisis,” he said. “Those in this room can help make this a reality, but we must rise to the occasion. The people of Syria need us more than ever.”
Echoing that message, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen encouraged a united, generous response alongside a fully coordinated engagement in the period ahead to chart a political way forward.
Pedersen said that a political solution would require a serious conversation among key stakeholders to make progress on some of the civil war’s unresolved political issues, which could block much-needed recovery after this disaster.
“The approach of seeking reciprocal and verifiable confidence-building measures – the so-called ‘steps-for-steps paradigm’ – is more relevant now than ever before,” the special envoy said.
“Let’s identify and move on additional confidence-building steps from all parties to confront the challenges of recovery after the disaster and address unresolved political issues,” he added.
He also requested all stakeholders to take inspiration from the Syrian people on the ground who have come together against the odds during this time to deal with their enormous challenges.
Briefing the council, Rasha Muhrez, the Response Director at the international non-governmental organization Save the Children, said new, creative approaches are needed to meet the scale of current challenges.
“We are now in a race against time,” she warned. “Families are forced to make impossible choices and may even take a perilous journey across the Mediterranean.”
“Without a change in approach, just to rebuild what was lost, Syrians would need to wait another lifetime,” she said.
The earthquake response should be a moment to come together and put politics aside, Muhrez said, emphasizing that “the children of Syria are counting on us all.”