48 hours to save Syria’s children
—By Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children. The opinions expressed are his own.–
The pictures of Syrian children lined up dead and others writhing in agony, foaming at the mouth as they struggled to breathe, shocked us all to the core. These horrific chemical attacks were crimes against humanity. That is why we should all welcome the UNSC resolution passed in New York.
But the children of Syria desperately need the same level of action that we have seen on chemical weapons to ensure humanitarian access – food and urgent medical care – to the millions still suffering and cut off.
Within days and weeks of the chemical attack the international community had sprung into action. Weapons inspectors were deployed across Syria’s conflict lines armed with notebooks and equipment to collect evidence and testimonies. Across the same lines aid agencies are being prevented from working. I was horrified by the chemical strike, but I couldn’t help feeling frustrated that aid workers weren’t going with the inspectors, bringing the food, water and medicine the people there so desperately needed.
The use of chemical weapons is horrific but the wider suffering and humanitarian crisis caused by conventional weapons is even more devastating. One little boy told me on my recent visit how, at its worst, 60 shells were falling a minute in his district, and how a shell fell on his neighbours killing the whole family. Another little boy told me how he witnessed a whole family have their throats slit. Millions of Syria’s families have been forced from their homes; 100,000 have been killed (7,000 of them children); hospitals have been attacked and over 3000 schools destroyed. A Syrian aid worker told me how a little baby died in one siege as his mother had been killed and they had no baby milk. The sewage system has stopped working in some areas, and basic medicines have run out. A third of Syria’s population has been forced to flee their homes. It is has become a living nightmare for the people of Syria.
Despite these huge needs aid agencies are not able to reach their victims. Inside Syria, families endure siege conditions just a few miles from hospitals and life-saving aid supplies. A recent NGO study found that more than 10 million people urgently need relief – millions of these are cut off from aid.
The UNSC chemical weapons resolution gives us cause for hope. It gives the weapons inspectors “unfettered access” to any location in Syria, military or otherwise, to ensure the resolution is implemented, and it demonstrates the power of political will – that when the world resolves to act, it can make a real difference. We need the same sense of urgency as we had in the aftermath of the chemical attack for all parties to agree a strong resolution giving aid agencies unfettered access to the desperate civilian population of Syria. The resolution should explicitly support cross-border and cross-conflict line access, so that aid is provided to currently out of reach areas.
It’s vital that the momentum gained from international agreement on chemical weapons is harnessed in the next few days while the diplomatic goodwill is still exists. The coming week will demonstrate whether the world has the will to save Syria’s children.