Today we will discuss how we can provide aid to those who need it in Syria and South Sudan.
In Syria, 2.5 million people are right now without access to humanitarian aid.
In South Sudan, 4 million people have been in need of humanitarian assistance. Only 300 000 of these have been reached.
This is unacceptable, a clear breach of agreed humanitarian principles. To deny access to people in need is an undeniable violation of humanitarian law.
After every humanitarian catastrophe, the same questions arise: How can we avoid such disasters in the future?
What can we do better?
The international capacity to manage complex and ongoing crises has improved. The humanitarian organisations have become more professional.
At the same time we see that it is increasingly difficult and dangerous to reach out to the people who are in greatest need, like in Syria and South Sudan.
These are two conflicts, humanitarian crises and political processes that are of crucial importance for peace and security in their own regions, but also globally.
The international community has an obligation to act.
Disagreements over Syria are many, motifs and interests differ. However, the international community should not accept that the people of Syria are denied access to humanitarian aid. Aid that they so desperately need. The least we should be able to agree on is a Security Council Resolution that secures humanitarian access to the civilian population of Syria.
The contributions so far are disappointing. The international community needs to do more: The UN has asked for 39 billion NOK. In Kuwait, the countries pledged only one third – 14.5 billion NOK. (Norway is now the 6th largest humanitarian donor country).
This is not enough. The needs are enormous. Right now, in Syria, we are facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in our time.
- 9, 3 million people are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.
- 6, 5 million people are internally displaced.
- 2, 3 million people are registered as refugees in neighboring countries.
These are not just numbers. They represent individuals. Every single one with their own story about what and about who they have lost.
Three years ago Syria was a safe haven for refugees. Now, Syria is the origin for the worst refugee catastrophes since the Second World War.
- 130.000 people have been killed in less than three years.
- Economic growth and human and social development gains are reversed. In 2011 Syria was a middle income country. Now, the country’s GDP is halved.
Civilian infrastructure, particularly hospitals, ambulances and even health workers are military targets.
Both parties to the conflict are exercising constraints on humanitarian response for political or military self-interest.
- They are not allowing visas for personnel.
- Convoys at checkpoints are obstructed.
- There are severe restrictions on the number of international and local NGOs that aims to engage in humanitarian relief.
The military tactics of the Syrian regime in besieging urban areas, not allowing any humanitarian aid inside, has devastating effects. Not only on opposition forces, but even more so on the civilian population.
The fragmentation of the Syrian opposition and the existence of extremist elements within their military ranks make negotiations on access cumbersome and dangerous.
I just returned from South Sudan.
- More than half a million people are displaced inside South Sudan.
- Only 250 000 of them are reached with assistance.
- More than one hundred thousand people have fled to neighboring countries.
Humanitarian access continues to be severely constrained by active hostilities. This includes attacks on aid workers and assets, interference into relief activities and large-scale looting of supplies of food and household items.
Humanitarian operations in South Sudan have been criticised for being impartial and sometimes relying too heavily on UNMISS assets.
This high level of cooperation between the mission and humanitarian actors has not gone unnoticed. Armed groups routinely lump humanitarian actors into the same category as UNMISS and question the real intentions of humanitarian actors.
This makes humanitarian actors particularly vulnerable.
It is a fact that we are much better able to handle refugees who cross borders, than to reach the ones who remain inside their own country (IDPs).
So - what can we do? What are the lessons learnt?
1. Aid must be separated from politics
- If aid is seen as being part of politics, it threatens the legitimacy and independence of humanitarian organisations and has serious implications for the security of the humanitarian operations.
2. Humanitarian crises require political solutions
- Norway, as a political actor, can be impartial but not neutral.
- We will not remain silent about maltreatment or abuse of power.
- We actively promote the normative frameworks of international humanitarian and human rights law.
3. Humanitarian assistance should be based on humanitarian needs and not on political considerations
- Humanitarian principles should always be held aloft. Particularly when confronted by political self-interest by parties to a conflict.
4. The international community must engage with the parties themselves, but also other countries involved.
- This is especially important in a conflict such as Syria, which shows many traits of being a proxy war for regional actors.
5. We must be innovative.
- We must find new ways of enhancing humanitarian access on both a political and practical level.
- Northern Syria is not covered by the UN appeals. However, there are cross-border operations from Turkey that serve communities in these areas.
- The UN may not be able to do actual cross-border delivery at the present time, but international NGOs are doing a great job under difficult circumstances in Northern Syria.
- Coordinating cross-border response without a formal role for the UN is challenging. But we are aware of, and encourage the informal role the UN is playing as an information-sharing hub for the cross-border activities.
- This is a pragmatic approach that helps save lives when the parties do not fulfill their obligations in accordance with international humanitarian law.
I am very pleased to have with us this morning both Executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Ms. Ertharin Cousin and Mr Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
WFP is an important partner for Norway.
WFP is delivering food aid in an effective way inside Syria through local partners.
During my trip to the Philippines in January I saw WFP work in a similar way to help rice farmers replace devastated crops with new seeds. This means they will be ready to harvest already in March.
This is work that makes a difference.
I look forward to hearing your comments.