The United Nations says an international donor conference has raised about $500 million for humanitarian relief efforts inside war-ravaged Syria.
Most of those funds are likely to go to aid agencies operating out of Damascus under official Syrian government supervision. But some relief workers say unofficial methods are better for reaching many Syrians in need of help.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said the donations offered Wednesday in Kuwait will be used to provide food, health care, water, blankets and mattresses to some of the estimated 2 million internally-displaced Syrians.
She said the pledges will boost an already “large-scale” operation inside Syria, led by five Syrian government-approved U.N. agencies.
They include the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).
The International Committee of the Red Cross also has been using Damascus as a base to organize aid convoys to parts of Syria where the government allows it to operate.
The ICRC funds aid programs in Syria and elsewhere using contributions from the European Commission, national governments, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and private sources.
The Red Cross System
Damascus-based ICRC spokeswoman Rima Kamal told VOA that the organization either transports relief supplies into Syria overland or buys them from local manufacturers.
She said those supplies have been stored in two warehouses, one in the Damascus district of Akraba, and one in the town of Adra, about 40 kilometers from the capital.
“We have not been able to access the Damascus warehouse for a while due to heavy fighting in the area,” she said. “We are currently looking into the possibility of having a third warehouse somewhere closer to northern Syria.”
Kamal said ICRC personnel determine where to send the supplies by making field trips from Damascus to examine the needs of other Syrian communities.
Speaking by telephone while traveling to the northern city of Latakia for a field visit, she said that once local needs are assessed, the ICRC relies on members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to drive the aid convoys.
“The Syrian Arab Red Crescent is the main partner of all international agencies in Syria. They are actually doing a great job of helping us to get to very difficult areas that are often cut off (by fighting),” Kamal said.
An Alternative Strategy
UN AID AGENCY OPERATIONS IN SYRIA
* UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) & World Heath Organization (WHO)
- Vaccinated millions of children against polio and measles
- Delivered blankets and mattresses to more than 550,000 people
- Provided clean water to thousands of people in shelters in rural Damascus
- Rehabilitated shelters in Aleppo, Damascus and Hasakeh provinces
* World Food Program (WFP)
- Delivered food to 1.5 million people in opposition-held, disputed and government-held areas
* Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
- Supported tens of thousands of farmers during the winter planting season
* UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
- Provided reproductive health services, psychosocial support
Paris-based aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has been using a different approach to provide medical support to desperate Syrians.
For more than a year, its members have been crossing into Syrian rebel-held areas from neighboring countries, without approval from Damascus.
The group has said it cannot ignore the medical needs of Syrians in those places, despite the government's repeated refusal to authorize its privately funded work.
In an interview with VOA, MSF president Marie-Pierre Allié said her personnel have supplied drugs and equipment to a network of Syrian doctors, especially in the north.
“Step by step, we have been establishing three hospitals that we are running ourselves,” she said. “We are providing medical care for wounded people and for any other emergencies in these hospitals.”
Allié said MSF members have won the trust of armed groups by explaining that their mission is to provide impartial aid to the population.
In a statement issued Tuesday, MSF said the opposition regions where it operates have received only a fraction of the aid provided by agencies in Damascus.
“When aid is distributed with the Syrian government’s blessing, [aid workers] have no possibility to cross front lines and come to the [rebel] side because of the impediments created by the government,” Allié said.
Evaluating the Official Method
Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief, acknowledged that U.N. agencies have been unable to operate in some areas reached by other groups.
“We must further strengthen our ties with opposition groups on the ground,” she told the Kuwait conference.
That could be a challenge for U.N. workers. Amos said Syrian rebel factions are not well-coordinated. She added that control of towns can shift on a daily basis.
Kamal of the ICRC said her agency has had some success in negotiating humanitarian access to rebel areas.
She also said the organization is “ready to explore the possibility” of delivering supplies to Syrians directly from neighboring states rather than through Damascus.
But, Kamal said, any cross-border aid missions would have to be fully transparent and conducted in consultation with the Syrian government.
She also warned that such operations have their limits.
“They will not solve the problem of aid reaching certain areas because you have a lot of victims concentrated in and around urban centers that are very difficult to reach from the border,” Kamal said.