Food supplies in northwest Syria will be depleted by September if the United Nations mandate for the last border crossing into the region is not extended, aid groups emphasized on Thursday.
Concerns have been rising in recent months that the situation will worsen in Syria’s Idlib province because Russia may force international aid for the northwest to be delivered through parts of Syria under the control of its ally, Bashar Assad.
Currently, aid enters the Idlib enclave directly from Turkey via a single border crossing, Bab al-Hawa. The UN mandate allowing deliveries through Bab al-Hawa ends on July 9, and Russia has hinted it will veto a Security Council resolution renewing the mandate.
The mandate’s expiration this year comes amid rising tension between Russia and the West over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine four months ago.
“This is a moment when it’s absolutely vital that the people of Syria are not forced to pay the price of geopolitical divisions,” David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, said during an online briefing Thursday.
A Russian veto would effectively hand Assad control over the flow of aid to the opposition enclave; if that happens, the United States and the European Union have warned they will stop funding.
Miliband said cross-border aid to northwest Syria supports 1.4 million people every month and “remains an urgent prerequisite in the Syria conflict.”
Tanya Evans, Syria’s country director for the committee, said the global food crisis “is particularly devastating” on Syria, especially Idlib, which is home to many internally displaced by the 11-year war. The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.
“If this mechanism is not renewed in July, then it is anticipated that food supplies will be depleted by September,” she warned. Evans said non-governmental organizations are estimating they have the capacity to scale out and reach approximately 300,000 people with food assistance — meaning that more than 1 million will have no access to food in September.
Sherine Ibrahim, a Turkey director for CARE, said that if the resolution is not renewed, approximately 80% of protection services provided by the United Nations “will come to a screeching halt.” She warned that the most affected will be women and children.
Observers say Russia is using the threat of closure of the aid entry point as a bargaining chip in the face of punishing European Union and US sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has argued aid can instead transit via regime-controlled parts of the country across conflict lines.
But aid groups have been reluctant to shift their massive operations to go through areas held by the regime of Bashar Assad, itself subject to sanctions.
Nearly 10,000 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid passed through the Bab al-Hawa crossing last year bound for the Idlib region, the last opposition bastion in Syria and home to around 3 million people.