Syria enduring worst economic crisis since war began, UN envoy says

More than 24,000 suspected cholera cases have been reported in all 14 governorates

Activists and civil society workers hold placards calling on the international community to maintain the cross-border humanitarian corridor at Bab Al Hawa. EPA
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Syrians are facing a bleak winter as they endure the worst economic crisis since the civil war began in 2011, the UN special envoy to the country said on Tuesday.

With a cholera outbreak spreading across the nation and soaring fuel costs, Geir Pederson urged UN Security Council members to ensure increased and unfettered humanitarian access to Syria via the most direct routes, including across borders and front lines.

As a political stalemate persists, Mr Pederson said Syria continues to be mired in a security, humanitarian and economic crisis, with needs now higher than at any other time during the 11-year conflict.

“The Syrian pound lost a tremendous amount of its value in recent weeks, which in turn saw food and fuel prices jump to even higher record prices,” he said.

“Syrians are enduring the worst economic crisis since the war began and it will only get worse this winter for the vast majority.”

The UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that about 14.6 million Syrians need assistance.

Reena Ghelani, the agency's director of operation and advocacy, said Syria now has more than 24,000 suspected cholera cases in all 14 governorates. Eighty people have died so far.

“This is a tragedy, but it should not come as a surprise,” she said. “Millions of people across Syria lack reliable access to sufficient and safe water, and the health system has been devastated by over a decade of conflict.”

Ms Ghelani added that the non-renewal of the authorisation to deliver cross-border humanitarian assistance at the peak of winter could affect millions of people in north-west Syria.

Geir Pedersen delivers remarks under a photo of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad during a meeting in Damascus. EPA

Russia, which intervened in Syria in 2015 to support President Bashar Al Assad, has long sought to end the UN cross-border mechanism. It considers the lifelines a breach of Syria’s sovereignty and says Damascus should be the one to deliver aid to the north-west region.

Moscow has used its Security Council veto or the threat of it in recent years to shut down three of the four border crossings used by humanitarians to reach vulnerable Syrians. The Bab Al Hawa crossing with Turkey will remain open for UN aid deliveries until January 2023, unless its operations are renewed.

Robert Wood, US deputy ambassador to the UN, said Russia's decision to block a 12-month extension of a cross-border mandate is having real consequences on the ground.

“This humanitarian operation is among the largest and most complicated in the world,” he said.

Mr Wood also echoed UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres's call for the creation of a new mechanism to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people in Syria.

“People who have gone missing at the hands of the Assad regime, ISIS or other parties to the conflict” must be found, he said.

“Confirming the whereabouts and status of the thousands of missing Syrians and releasing the arbitrarily detained are essential to achieving a stable, just and enduring peace in Syria.”

Updated: October 25, 2022, 6:17 PM