Lord Hylton – 2016 Parliamentary Question to the Department for International Development

The below Parliamentary question was asked by Lord Hylton on 2016-02-01.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of eyewitness accounts of starvation from across Syria; what action they have taken following that assessment; and in particular whether they will discuss with the government of Russia the provision of supplies by land and by air.

Baroness Verma

No one who has seen the images coming out of Madaya and other besieged towns can say this situation is anything other than utterly appalling. Across Syria, Assad and other parties to the conflict are wilfully impeding humanitarian access on a day-by-day basis. It is unacceptable and illegal to use starvation as a weapon of war. We are deeply concerned about the 4.6 million people who live in hard to reach areas, including almost 486,700 who live under siege conditions.

We have given support to the UN and international NGOs since the start of the conflict to deliver aid to besieged and hard to reach areas. On 11 January, the UN, Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent confirmed aid convoys had arrived in the hard to reach towns of Madaya, Foah and Kefraya. Further convoys have since arrived. These convoys are expected to enable 40,000 people inside Madaya, and 20,000 people inside Foah and Kefraya, to survive. UK funding to UN agencies directly supported these convoys with food parcels and medicine.

However, humanitarian access to those in need continues to shrink. In the past year, only 10% of all requests submitted by the UN to the regime to access besieged and hard-to-reach areas have been approved and delivered. That’s why it is vital we keep up the pressure on the regime and other conflict parties to let aid convoys in and to provide sustained, permanent and safe humanitarian access. Russia, in particular, has a special obligation to confront and condemn the atrocities being carried out against Syrian civilians.

When it comes to helping Syrians in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, we do not rule anything out but, right now, air drops are not a viable way of getting help to those in need. Use of air drops to deliver aid is high risk and should only be considered as a last resort when all other means have failed, and it is an effective way of getting humanitarian supplies to people. Critically, the UN is not currently calling for their use.

We are aware of reports of Russian airdrops into Deir Ez Zour. We are working to verify these claims and understand the nature and impact of any such airdrops, including the extent to which they may be effectively addressing needs. Unlike Madaya, Deir Ez Zour city is under regime control and is surrounded by Daesh.