Syria may not be a priority for the US administration. But the Brussels conference and the July vote on the UN’s cross-border mechanism will no longer hold back the catastrophic humanitarian situation of the big donors. It even means that NGOs cannot expect to solve this.
Despite the relative decline in violence in Syria, the humanitarian situation has deteriorated dangerously in the last year. In almost every criterion; such as poverty rates, food scarcity, access to clean water. Syrians are now much worse than they were at the beginning of 2020. The world’s governments will soon face two tests of its ability to tackle this immediate challenge: first next week, then again in July.
Four Human Truths in a Conflict
As of December, the UN estimates that more than 80% of Syrian people live below the poverty line. According to the Humanitarian Coordination Office (OCHA), 11.1 million Syrians are in need of assistance as of this year. The World Food Program estimates that 12.4 million people, or 70% of the Syrian population, suffer from food problems. These rates have increased by 20% compared to 2020.
Even these alarming numbers do not convey the full scale of the problem. Apart from the dire situation in the region, at least a quarter of Syrians (5.6 million people) are currently refugees in neighboring countries. And there are obstacles to accurate counting, and that means that the figure is almost certainly an underestimate. Refugees in countries in the region make up about a third of Syrians, according to OCHA’s regional funding update for February.
At least 16.7 million Syrians in the region are in need of humanitarian aid. Systems aiming to fill these needs are highly complex and irregular.
The Syrian conflict has revealed at least four different humanitarian truths:
Syrian Regime Zone
The reasons behind the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in the regions controlled by the Bashar al-Assad regime are numerous. These; It controls the massive destruction of the recaptured opposition areas, the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon, regime disruption to aid, domestic inflation and international sanctions, among others.
The black market exchange rate for the Syrian pound has tripled since the beginning of 2020 alone, making essential goods prohibitively expensive even for those who previously lived in the middle class. The cost of a food basket to sustain a family of five for a month has increased fivefold since October 2019, and the rapidly growing lines for subsidized bread and other essential products make it clear that the crisis in the regime area has deepened in recent weeks.
Heyet Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Northwest Syria
An estimated 4 million people, including 2.7 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) from elsewhere in Syria, lived in this area last year. The UN estimates that of this figure, at least 3 million are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. The Idlib region, controlled by the jihadist group Heyet Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), is in critical need of assistance, especially in terms of hygiene and access to clean water, due to overcrowding.
OCHA estimates that 1.5 million out of 2.7 million IDPs are aggregated on “last resort” sites, which are significantly exceeding capacity. UN coordinated efforts provided clean water to 2.1 million northwest residents in January, according to survey data reported by the REACH initiative that month. But more than 44% of the local population rely on unsustainably expensive water provided by private trucks.
PKK-YPG Terrorist Group in Northeast Syria
As of October 9, 2019, when the detailed rates were last available, the northeast region, largely controlled by the US-backed terrorist organizations PYD-YPG, was home to over 1.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Still, access to help remains high. These numbers likely increased drastically in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak and other developments.
For example, in REACH’s January 2021 needs survey, half of the northeast and two-thirds of non-IDP communities reported having no access to humanitarian goods and services, while 98% of those surveyed had poor access to food by those living in their communities.
Refugees in Neighboring Countries
Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan (the three largest host countries) may be considered relatively easy to provide assistance to the Syrians. However, Turkey is providing the needs of refugees and any other organization in the state can not provide a high rate. Overcrowding, lack of funding and barriers to entering the formal labor market have created a desperate situation for most of the refugee population.
Violated and Canceled Humanitarian Aid Systems
The main challenge for humanitarian actors is access to those in need as blockades and other actions repeatedly violate the international barrier-free access principle. The Assad regime is primarily responsible for these abuses, going so far as to continually allocate or restrict aid as a means of warfare, and even hit humanitarian aid facilities as in northwest Syria on March 21.
Such actions are well documented, but they are a struggle. The excessive interpretation of humanitarian law allowed Russia and China to protect the regime from consequences through UN Security Council vetoes.
Esad especially argues that he has an absolute right to control the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Syria. Even for territories beyond its control, Moscow backs this claim in the Security Council. The World Health Organization and other seemingly neutral organizations bowed to Assad’s will and poured more aid to those loyal to the regime than to other voters in order to protect the regime’s well-being.
As a result, Damascus exerts excessive control over aid distribution, although more than 60% of needy Syrians live outside the regime’s borders. Assad and Moscow’s sovereignty argument is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law, which has long seemed to prohibit the suspension of aid to any group of people for “arbitrary or capricious” reasons.
To better deliver aid to those who need it directly, the international community has established a second aid system (cross-border mechanism). In 2014, the Security Council, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan directly to the control of the opposition in Syria approved a plan to send help. Still, this lifeline is under threat from its inception.
While the Assad regime claimed that the mechanism violated its sovereignty, Moscow only temporarily accepted it at a time when the regime was particularly vulnerable prior to the 2015 Russian military intervention. Years of hardships from Moscow ultimately resulted in a veto threat at the UN, prompting the Security Council to reduce the number of border crossings from four to two in January 2020 and then to just one in July.
Canceling the Iraqi part of the mechanism left Syria’s northeast. It largely remained dependent on the Assad regime for UN assistance. A limited number of NGO networks continued to provide assistance from Iraq to deliver life-saving aid. However, they often have to operate under the radar and cannot be raised to a sufficient level. Northwest residents may find themselves in the same situation if they again exercise their veto power when it comes time to renew Russia’s last entry point into the UN cross-border mechanism (Bab al-Hawa) this July.
Who Is Funding What?
Funding for these fragmented regions is extremely difficult. According Ochiai’s February regional financial update, only 7% of Syrian refugees in Turkey in 2020 was adequate to meet their needs with the help of the UN (although some of these gaps EU about 6 paid in 2016 from Ankara since, It was filled with 5 billion euros.
However, the EU ‘Finding help for refugees previously assumed that Turkey did not pay that tahattüt. In this case he found in Turkey for the needs of refugees more aid from 50 billion dollars. Europe in the prevention of unregulated migration of refugees Turkey is playing a key role in the EU but nevertheless exhibits a hypocritical attitude.
While Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan displayed a balanced performance (17.5% and 15.4% of OCHA’s funding targets were achieved here, respectively), those in need within Syria received only 55% of the UN’s target fund.
Considering Moscow’s role as a mediator in the distribution of aid in the conflict, it can be expected that Russia’s humanitarian aid commitments in Syria will be important. However, the opposite is true. With a total contribution of $ 23.3 million documented by the UN in 2020, Russia accounted for just 0.5% of UN coordinated assistance. In return, the United States donated over $ 1.5 billion, and EU members donated the same collectively.
These figures should be kept in mind as the EU prepares to host the 5th Conference of Brussels on 29-30 March to raise funds and discuss solutions for humanitarian disaster and as the Biden administration reviews its Syria policy.
At the previous Brussels conference last June, donors pledged over $ 7.7 billion, but the UN estimates that around $ 10 billion will be needed to fully meet Syrians’ humanitarian needs in 2020.
These needs are projected to increase in 2021, so the upcoming conference Raise more funding and set realistic goals on how to distribute it to people who need it most.
European and North American countries have provided nearly 90% of humanitarian aid to Syrians since 2011. Therefore, they have the power to pressure UN agencies operating in the regime area to limit Assad’s aid allocation.
These donors should also prepare joint alternatives to the UN framework if the cross-border solution is not renewed in July. They must form a united front and deliver a very clear message to Moscow: aid will be delivered directly to needy residents in the northwestern province of Idlib, with or without a UN resolution keeping the nearby passage open.
Moscow may complain that aid is being diverted to jihadist groups. But the truth is that this is the world’s most watched aid delivery system and closing the Bab al-Hawa pass will make it difficult to track. Alternatively, if the UN framework is maintained and hopefully improved, member states should be encouraged to provide additional funding for humanitarian operations.