News / Middle East

    Aid Workers Question Effectiveness of UN Syria Aid

    Syrian Arab Red Crescent members place a red crescent flag on top of a food aid truck before moving it to Aleppo Central Prison, May 11, 2014.
    Syrian Arab Red Crescent members place a red crescent flag on top of a food aid truck before moving it to Aleppo Central Prison, May 11, 2014.
    Reuters
    Seven weeks after U.N. aid trucks crossed from Turkey into Syria for the first time, aid workers and officials in this southern Turkish humanitarian hub still have no idea exactly where the supplies ended up.
     
    The convoy of 78 trucks taking food, bedding and medicine to Syria's mainly Kurdish Hasakah province was seen as a test of the willingness of Syria's authorities and rebels to abide by a U.N. resolution urging them to let aid across front lines and
    borders by the most direct routes.
     
    But no distribution lists have been made available for this or any other U.N. delivery since the resolution, aid workers in Gaziantep near the Turkish border say, hampering the efforts of a plethora of charities trying to co-ordinate a response to the
    world's biggest humanitarian crisis.
     
    "We still don't know where it went and we're not comfortable with this. The U.N. is constrained by the [Syrian] regime," said a Turkish official, speaking under condition he not be identified as his government has not taken a public stance on the issue.
     
    Syria's war has killed more than 150,000 people, with more than nine million in need of humanitarian assistance. Its complicated patchwork of fighting has made aid provision harder.
     
    The United Nations estimates 3.5 million of the people in need of aid live in areas that are difficult or impossible to reach for humanitarian workers, including more than 240,000 people besieged by government or opposition forces.
     
    The convoy, dispatched over a largely deserted frontier to a region controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, was meant to be a test case to show that the issue of access can be dealt with under the U.N. resolution. But there were doubts from the outset over whether assistance would reach those in rebel-held areas in need.
     
    According to stipulations set by the Syrian government, the delivery was passed to Syrian partner agencies including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
     
    Reuters asked the United Nations in Damascus for information on the final distribution of aid in Hasakah, but was told no one was available to speak. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent could not be reached for comment.
     
    The U.N. resolution, adopted by the Security Council in February in a rare show of unanimity on Syria, sought to boost humanitarian access and threatened to take "further steps" if Syria's government and the rebels failed to comply.
     
    But the lack of transparency around U.N. deliveries makes that hard to monitor, according to international non-government organizations (NGOs), which wrote to several U.N. Security Council members last month warning a lack of coordination meant assistance was not reaching priority areas.
     
    "I can't know if it's done well or badly as the U.N. hasn't told us exactly who the aid has gone to," said the project manager of one Western NGO, declining to be identified for fear of jeopardizing already fragile relations with the world body.
     
    "It's doubly damaging because there is no accountability, transparency or coordination and all the while Assad is claiming credit (for aid deliveries) and criminalizing anyone who is crossing the border in rebel-held areas."
     
    Scattered like seeds
     
    The United Nations has delivered shipments of aid from within Syria to some rebel-held areas, including most recently in the northern districts of Aleppo and Idlib, but the Hasakah delivery is so far the world body's only attempt to reach rebel-held areas from across the Turkish border.
     
    NGOs complain that despite multiple requests, the United Nations has so far failed to share its methodology in identifying those most in need and monitoring where its aid goes after delivery. Often it does not even disclose what its food
    aid includes.
     
    That makes effective coordination among the dozens of Syrian and international agencies operating out of Turkey, most of them using the southern city of Gaziantep as a hub, unnecessarily complicated, they say.
     
    "It starts with coordinated needs assessments, coordinating with donors and responding in a systematic way. We immediately monitor where the aid went," said Dominic Bowen, coordinator of the NGO Forum in Gaziantep, which represents international groups making cross-border aid deliveries.
     
    "Failing to do so can result in duplication and massive market distortion," he told Reuters.
     
    One European charity said it had to cancel an aid delivery to Idlib about a month ago, after being told a day in advance that the United Nations planned to serve those areas. U.N. officials did not reveal their specific distribution plan. "The U.N. is not alone. They should be part of the group.
     
    We're all equal," said the project manager of the NGO, which delivers some 30 trucks of food baskets and bread to Idlib and Aleppo each month.
     
    "Distribution is not just crossing the border and scattering aid like seeds," he said, also speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the United Nations.
     
    The United Nations' Jordan-based regional Humanitarian Coordinator Nigel Fisher acknowledged the concerns.
     
    "Obviously this is a critical issue. People on all sides recognize there are problems with developing an information sharing program," he said, recognizing that the majority of cross-border assistance was being delivered by NGOs and saying
    that efforts to improve coordination were underway.
     
    Step in the right direction

    A meeting in Gaziantep at the end of last month brought together more than 100 aid workers from the United Nations and Syrian and international NGOs. Delegates said frustration that the world body had to seek approval from the Syrian government
    for its deliveries in spite of the February Security Council resolution was the "elephant in the room".
     
    "The idea of cross border deliveries itself is not a mistake. But they need permission of the regime and it is not letting them deliver where the aid is most needed," said Yakzan Shishakly, director of Syrian NGO Maram Foundation.
     
    He said Syrian NGOs needed the United Nations to help direct funding because donors trusted the world body.
     
    Fisher, the Jordan-based U.N. humanitarian coordinator, said the United Nations was "very sympathetic" to NGO concerns over access to donor money.
     
    Several NGOs also called on the United Nations to help overcome other barriers such as administrative hurdles by lobbying host nations including Turkey, which had to agree to the U.N. convoy crossing in March.
     
    "Advocacy, opening up borders, overcoming challenges to humanitarian actors getting visas, generally helping us to deliver aid from Turkey which we have been doing for years – the [February] resolution gives them cover to do this," said the project manager of the Western NGO.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.