Briefing the ambassadors of the Secretary-General’s recommendations to save more civilians from harm, Mark Lowcock, Emergency Aid Coordinator, noted that despite the UN chief’s call for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic, deadly fighting continues and had been tightened in some areas.
From attacks on health professionals to protecting the environment, what I said to the UN Security Council today has focused on five areas highlighted in the Secretary-General’s annual report on the protection of the civilian population. https://t.co/FJjYo06P7y – Mark Lowcock (@UNReliefChief) May 25, 2021
Last year, conflicts contributed to the number of displaced people rising to 80 million by mid-2020. Those who were able to return home also fell, while insecurity, sanctions, counter-terrorism measures and bureaucracy “hampered humanitarian operations.”
The pandemic made it more difficult with flight closings, closed borders, quarantine measures and closings. Mr. Lowcock highlighted five key areas where improvement is most needed.
Conflict and hunger
The interplay between conflict and hunger led to another famine in northeastern Nigeria, parts of the Sahel, South Sudan and Yemen, acute food insecurity as a result of conflicts. ”
In Nigeria, 110 farmers died in a single attack on a rice farm. In Ethiopia crops have been destroyed and looted, while aid was blocked after the political crisis in Tigray. The assistant chief said he had written to the ambassadors earlier that day about what to do there.
Calling for “more effective action” by governments to address the problem as a whole, he noted that conflict disrupts food systems and markets while food is destroyed and prices rise – a vicious cycle of hunger.
Second, he found that 90 percent of people killed by explosive weapons live in cities, compared with just 20 percent when they are used in the countryside.
“These weapons are also causing a devastating toll on the essential civil infrastructure,” said the chief of assistance. “Fighting parties must change their choice of weapons and tactics.
He also highlighted the impact of conflict on the environment, referring to air strikes in Iraq, which destroyed the field with forest fires, threatened biodiversity and threatened endangered species. Oil spills in Syria had polluted agricultural water and endangered health and hygiene.
“The root of many of the many conflicts lies in part with environmental issues, particularly with respect to water,” he said, predicting that the council’s business would draw many more conclusions in the years to come.
Medics under attack
“When medical care ceases, lives are lost,” Lowcock said, bluntly assessing the impact of the attacks on health workers and facilities, which, in addition to conflict, caused even more deaths.
Attacks on health care systems in 22 conflict-affected countries killed 182 health care workers last year. In Myanmar alone, 109 cases of violence against employees were documented within two months of the military coup, “accelerating the collapse of the public health system when many people needed it most,” he said.
“The health care consequences are catastrophic as millions of people are deprived of life-saving care and treatment for diseases such as cholera, measles and COVID are severely curtailed,” he added.
Some states have taken practical steps to protect medical personnel, notably by ensuring military rules of action in compliance with international humanitarian law.
Finally, Mr Lowcock warned the ambassadors that in his four years of service he had seen a “substantial deterioration” in the compliance of the belligerents with humanitarian law.
“It is possible to make progress,” he said, calling on states to improve training, modernize policies to prevent civil harm, better prosecute victims, investigate incidents and hold those responsible for violations accountable to pull.
He added that the behavior of non-state armed groups to comply with international law could also improve, “although it is important to recognize the very real challenges in this area, particularly in relation to those groups who refute international humanitarian law and the role by humanitarian organizations as part of their twisted ideologies. ”
“We all – Member States in particular, and humanitarian organizations in particular – need a more effective approach to address this. Many current efforts are counterproductive and exacerbate the harm to civilians.
“What is not punished is funded”
Accountability is vital, he told the council, “If war crimes are not punished, things will get worse. Accountability for violations must be systematic and universal. What is not punished is encouraged.
“This requires the political will… to investigate and prosecute allegations of serious violations whenever they arise. We have the laws and tools to protect civilians from harm in armed conflict. It is time for all states and parties to the conflict to apply them. ”