A glaring question came out of the recent grand deal over chemical weapons in Syria. What about the much larger scale of ongoing death and suffering that has nothing to do with chemical weapons? Over 1,000 people are estimated to have died because of chemical weapons, but that is less than 1 percent of the more than 100,000 people who have died by more “conventional” means. What about the more than 6 million refugees and internally displaced persons facing great need for, but limited access to, humanitarian aid?
A UN Security Council Presidential Statement last week may just provide an answer.
More than two and half years after the first of millions of Syrians were forced to flee their homes, often to areas denied international aid, the UN Security Council finally unanimously adopted a strong statement condemning “all cases of humanitarian access” and urging all parties to facilitate delivery of aid including across conflict lines and borders.
The statement itself may not bring immediate change on the ground. Indeed the most recent UN projections point to a worsening trend, expecting an additional 2 million Syrians to become refugees in 2014 and 2.25 million more to be displaced internally. In other words, the UN expects more than a third of the Syrian population to be displaced by the end of next year.
Still the breaking of silence by the UN Security Council on the subject is significant. If concerted international pressure can ensure access to dangerous areas for international chemical weapons experts, it should also be able to ensure significantly increased access to the most vulnerable displaced persons.
It might also explain the seemingly strange disconnected recent comments of Secretary Kerry saying he was “very pleased” and crediting the Assad regime for initial progress on identifying and destroying chemical weapons, even as that very regime continues abuses against its own people. If the chemical weapons deal does in fact open the door to further progress on other subjects, like humanitarian access, that were wholly ignored by the agreement itself, and perhaps even to meaningful peace talks, as has been hinted at recently, perhaps the approach will in the end be defensible.
Much remains to be seen and it will certainly be months if not years before the humanitarian crisis truly abates. But much more can be done to mitigate the extent of that crisis and a unified call at the highest levels of international government demanding humanitarian access is a significant first step.