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International Community Struggles to Ease Syrian Suffering

  • Mariama Diallo

As each day passes and the death toll rises, millions of Syrians are increasingly worried about their fate in a war with no end in sight. Experts who gathered in Washington recently wondered how long the international community will be able to support the humanitarian needs of the victims -- and Syria's neighbors will be willing to take them in.

Almost three years after the Syrian war broke out, there is no sign of it ending. While fighting continues, millions of civilians caught in the crossfire have been internally displaced or have taken refuge in neighboring countries.

Although some thought the recent meeting in Geneva between the warring factions ended with little progress, U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said it laid a foundation for talks scheduled for February 10.

“Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner,” said Brahimi.

However, while the peace talks were taking place in Geneva, U.N. Undersecretary General Jeffrey Feltman was discouraged.

"We are sobered by the reality that probably not a single civilian was saved this week through the talks in Geneva,” he said.

Feltman said he will start believing in these talks once they have an impact on the suffering.

"Unfortunately I must acknowledge that 10 days after Montreuil, we are still not there yet,” he said.

The U.S. State Department estimates more than nine million people are in need of assistance in Syria, with more than six million internally displaced and about 2.5 million refugees in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.

USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, who just returned from Lebanon and Jordan, testified to the enormity of the situation.

"In Lebanon one out of every five people is from Syria… In Jordan, the influx has been so significant, it is as if the entire population of Canada moved into the United States in the last 18 months," Shah said.

Shah said the scale of this crisis is unmatched, and while the United States has led the world in providing nearly $3 billion in humanitarian and developmental assistance, it is time for the war to stop.

"All the programs and humanitarian assistance of the world are not going to change the dynamic. You are going to need some kind of a political settlement,” he said.

The problem of access also presents a huge challenge for humanitarian workers.

“Without access, money means nothing,” said Encho Gospodinov, the European Commission’s Special Advisor.

Gospodinov said it's frustrating to sit on trucks full of food and medicine and not be able to deliver it. He also pointed out that providing education for the Syrian children living in camps is as important as trying to feed them.