Image: UNICEF/Diego Ibarra Sánchez
New York: The UN’s humanitarian affairs chief warned the Security Council on Monday that efforts must improve to reach nearly 18 million in need in war-torn Ukraine, since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.
“On the eve of the horrific one-year milestone, we have a lot to do and we can do better,” said Martin Griffiths, who also serves as the Emergency Relief Coordinator.
The tragedy continues to unfold
“We have warned about the toxic brew of death, destruction, displacement, and deprivation that this war has caused. We have spoken about the psychological trauma it has left. We have condemned its deadly toll on civilians. Yet the tragedy continues to unfold with no end in sight,” said Mr. Griffiths.
Nearly 40 per cent of Ukraine’s population needs assistance, against a backdrop of more than 7,000 civilian deaths and widespread devastation, he said, briefing the Council on the current humanitarian situation on the ground. Homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed and entire cities heavily damaged.
“This violence shows no signs of abating,” he said, recalling recent airstrikes and sharing poignant scenes from his December visit to Ukraine.
‘Remarkable drive for survival’
Having witnessed communities completely cut off from electricity and essential supplies, he said “in this warscape, I also saw people’s remarkable drive for survival” amid the ongoing conflict.
He cited a bakery run by women, with help from the World Food Programme (WFP), which now produces thousands of loaves daily.
“The people of Ukraine have left the whole world in awe of their resilience,” he said, detailing some of the colossal challenges they face, from rampant sexual violence and trafficking, to crippling damage to infrastructure.
UN assists 15.8 million people
For its part, the UN provides 15.8 million people with assistance, including 1.3 million outside the Ukrainian Government’s control, he said. Inter-agency convoys provide comprehensive packages of support with a wealth of partners to send supplies - from winter coats to building materials - to those most in need.
Operations have expanded exponentially in the past year, he continued. Convoys have delivered life-saving aid to villages near the front line in rural parts of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson and Kharkiv oblasts.
Prior to February 2022, he said, humanitarian partners were already delivering assistance, mainly in the east on both sides of the front line in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, or regions, following the initial 2014 Russian invasion. More than 650 humanitarian organizations now operate across all Ukrainian oblasts, he added.
“But, we need to reach more people, more frequently,” he stressed. “We must continue to staunchly advocate from all angles, to stop the humanitarian catastrophe and suffering of the Ukrainian people and to address this war’s profound global implications on global food and energy prices, trade and supply chains and on questions of nuclear safety.”
‘Making progress where we can’
“We are making progress where we can,” he said noting that the Black Sea Grain Initiative continues to make strides and anticipating the critical need for its renewal in March.
In addition, the UN will try to press for facilitating more food and fertilizer exports from Russia in a broader effort to address global food insecurity.
However, despite repeated attempts, crossline convoys from north to south have not materialized, he said, emphasizing that humanitarian access to areas under Russia’s temporary military control have become increasingly unpredictable and impeded. He reminded all parties in Ukraine to take constant care to spare civilians and relate objects and ensure passage of aid deliveries.
The 2023 humanitarian response plan, to be launched in Geneva next week, requires $3.9 billion to bring assistance to more than 11 million people, he said. Faced with these current conditions, coming after the previous eight years of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, he stressed that more must be done.
“I call on us all to push forward with renewed vigour to give the people of Ukraine the peace and support they need and deserve,” he said.
UN chief warns of ‘wider war’
Cautioning the General Assembly on Monday, while delivering a major speech on his priorities for the year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing.
“I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war,” he said. “It is doing so with its eyes wide open.”
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