UN Security Council voices concern over COVID-19's potential "devastating impact" on Syria

A boy wearing a face mask is seen in a street of Damascus, capital of Syria, on March 21, 2020. (Photo by Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua)
  • Xinhua
  • March 31, 2020 4:57 AM

UNITED NATIONS -- United Nations Security Council on Monday expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in Syria and the potential impact of COVID-19 on the war-torn country.

The council held a briefing via video teleconference on the situation in Syria and was briefed on by UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock and UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen.

The council members stressed the need to ensure the necessary conditions to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in Syria and called on all parties to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian assistance, including medical items, in all parts of the country and to all Syrians in need, according to press elements provided by the council presidency, China.

The members of the Security Council called on all parties to ensure a sustained period of calm throughout the country and reaffirmed the need for the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254, which envisions a political settlement of the Syria conflict.

During the briefing with the Security Council on Monday, Lowcock warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to have a devastating impact on the vulnerable communities in conflict-affected Syria.

"As of this morning, 10 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Syria, including one death. Judging from other places, that is the tip of the iceberg. The virus has the potential to have a devastating impact on the vulnerable communities across the country," the UN humanitarian chief told the Security Council's meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria via video-link.

"Syria's health services are extremely fragile. Only around half of its hospitals and primary healthcare centers were fully functional at the end of last year," he said.

"As in other countries, the World Health Organization-led response advises a focus on prevention and preparedness. That includes preparing front-line humanitarian workers, most of whom are Syrians, to interact safely with communities," he said.

Lowcock said that the UN-supported surveillance and early warning systems have been reinforced across the country, in joint efforts with relevant authorities. Preparedness and response plans have been developed and the pre-positioning of equipment and supplies, the rehabilitation of the Central Public Health Laboratory, the upgrading of available isolation units, and community engagement programs are all underway.

"But all efforts to prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19 are impeded by Syria's fragile health system, by high levels of population movement, challenges to obtaining critical supplies, including protective equipment and ventilators, and by the practical difficulties of implementing isolation and protective measures in areas of displacement, with high population density and low levels of sanitation services," said Lowcock.

In the meantime, Lowcock called special attention to the situation in northwest Syria, noting that humanitarian needs "remain enormous" in that part of the country.

"Our data show clear evidence of deteriorating conditions since December. We are for example seeing increased rates of stunting -- a consequence of child malnutrition, from which it is rarely possible fully to recover," he said.

Noting that the pandemic is already further restricting the UN's ability to access affected communities, the UN humanitarian chief reiterated the UN chief's call for a complete and immediate nationwide ceasefire throughout Syria to enable an all-out effort to suppress COVID-19.

"I reiterate the secretary general's appeal for the waiving of sanctions that can undermine countries' capacity to respond to the pandemic," he said.

Recalling the UN's 2-billion-U.S.-dollar global humanitarian response plan to fight COVID-19 in the world's most vulnerable countries launched last week, Lowcock stressed that "this crisis can only be overcome by a truly global response."


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