News / Middle East

US Leads Struggle to Avert Humanitarian Disaster in Syria

Delegates from 60 nations gathered in Kuwait to consider increased pledges for U.N. humanitarian aid for more than five million civilian victims of the Syria conflict, January 30, 2013.
Delegates from 60 nations gathered in Kuwait to consider increased pledges for U.N. humanitarian aid for more than five million civilian victims of the Syria conflict, January 30, 2013.
David Arnold
President Barack Obama announced this week that the United States will increase aid to Syrian war victims by $155 million.

The aid package was presented Wednesday at an international humanitarian conference for Syria chaired by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The U.N. asked the 60 nations attending the conference in Kuwait to contribute $1.5 billion for operations over the next six months.

The president’s announcement brings the total of U.S. humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees and those displaced inside Syria to $365 million since the crisis began 22 months ago. The total is the largest amount pledged by any single country and is slightly higher than amounts pledged by all European Union donors combined.

Debate is growing, however, over how to reach the homeless and needy inside Syria, a number now estimated to be 4.5 million.
 
Humanitarian conditions within Syria ‘catastrophic’

The humanitarian situation inside Syria is already catastrophic,” said Valerie Amos, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA). “Four million people are facing unrelenting violence and violations of their human rights, and we continue to see the terrible damage being caused by heavy weapons used in urban centers.”

Donors and international agencies are now debating the effectiveness of what many now call the most complex and dangerous humanitarian emergency in the world.

Among other questions, the debate centers on where the aid funds should go and how to deliver assistance to civilians in areas controlled by the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Currently, the lion's share … is going to the 650,000-plus who have fled the country,” according to a paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The study was written by regional experts David Pollock and Andrew Tabler.

The regime's recent strategy seems to be the deliberate destruction and depopulation of selected major urban and suburban areas
That trend is now shifting with the president’s announcement of additional assistance for the homeless and needy inside Syria. The new U.S. funding for 2013 showed increased attention to Syria’s displaced: $64 million compared to $99 million for refugee assistance for the region as a whole.

But according to Tabler and Pollock, delivering that assistance inside Syria will be difficult so long as the Assad government controls who gets it.

“The regime's recent strategy seems to be the deliberate destruction and depopulation of selected major urban and suburban areas precisely in order to starve and terrorize their populations into submission,” they warned.

‘Humanitarian policy is a mess’

“I would say humanitarian policy … inside Syria is a mess,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar. Shaikh calls conditions inside Syria “a real humanitarian disaster.”

The problem, Shaikh says, is that because the Assad regime is the still the government of Syria, the United Nations is still trying to deliver assistance through Syrian government agencies.

Because of this, some donor nations are discussing alternative ways to deliver aid.

“There is a clear need for the international community to really think realistically, creatively and with purpose about humanitarian policy that actually works,” says Shaikh. “Otherwise, I’m afraid we will see a worsening humanitarian crisis…”

This is the largest, most complex and perhaps most dangerous crisis we are facing
Despite all of the words of encouragement from the world community, Shaikh said that after almost two years of civil war, Syrians are losing hope about the arrival of humanitarian aid.

“There is a perception inside Syria the international community has failed to protect civilians and now - given the dire human situation - that the international community is failing again just to keep them alive…,” he said.

Management challenges for Syrian aid delivery

Despite the difficulties, U.S. officials say aid is still getting through.

“This is the largest, most complex and perhaps most dangerous crisis we are facing,” said Kelly Clements, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department’s Population, Refugee and Migration Bureau.

Assistance projects supplied by the United States and other donors are carried out by partners in major U.N. agencies and among “a broad range of non-governmental organizations,” Clements explained. She added that the assistance is getting through to both government-controlled as well as 'contested areas…'”

Amos of the U.N.’s assistance coordinating office agrees, estimating that 49 percent of the food aid assistance had been successfully delivered in contested areas, which she said is evidence that some of the aid gets through to the toughest places.

How to avoid working through the Assad regime

Even so, the study by Pollock and Tabler listed several possible ways to get around Syrian government restrictions on humanitarian aid. One possibility they cited was Doctors Without Borders, the international assistance group that has set up a few clandestine clinics in rebel-held northern areas of Syria. Another is the Syrian-American Medical Society that raised $2.5 million last year in grants for Syrian medical missions and sent 23 doctors and medical technicians to work inside Syria.

If (U.S. leadership) is not forthcoming I’m afraid we are likely to see Syria become the failed state everyone has been warning about
However the assistance is delivered, the U.S. government remains the biggest donor and the biggest factor in setting new humanitarian aid policy in Syria, says Brooking’s Shaikh. He calls for even greater U.S. involvement in the political, military, economic and humanitarian aspects of the situation in Syria.

“If that is not forthcoming I’m afraid we are likely to see Syria become the failed state everyone has been warning about,” Shaikh concluded.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs