Humanitarian Responses to the Syria Crisis
In July 2012, peaceful protests in the wake of the Arab Spring movement in Syria swiftly erupted into an armed conflict, which evolved into an ongoing civil war that is without comparison in today’s world. This war has long since ceased to be fought exclusively between the government and rebellious forces, with many other countries also deeply embroiled in the matter. With the conflict now having gone on for years, the humanitarian situation is worsening on a daily basis, civilians being the group most affected by the ravages of war. The most recent incident, an attack by chemical weaponry on the region of Idlib, has managed to grab the world’s attention once more, and in its wake international tensions appear to be spiralling out of control.
Refugee Crisis and Humanitarian Situation:
Since the start of the war, more than 5 million people (and rising) have fled Syria, with the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon now harboring by far the majority of these refugees. About 10% (and rising) of said refugees have come to Europe, which has caused a great amount of dissent in European politics. Meanwhile, more than 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced in Syria, which makes Syria the biggest crisis of displacement in the entire world. As of 2016, an estimated 13.5 million people in Syria are in need of aid of various forms, such as health care, protection support, water and sanitation, and education. 70% of the population lack adequate access to drinking water, one in three people are unable to meet their basic food needs, life expectancy has dropped by almost 20 years, more than 2.7 million children are out of school, and four out of five Syrians live in poverty. Many areas in Syria are hard to get to, and by extension pose great difficulties when it comes to delivering much-needed aid to the people suffering – 5 million Syrians live in hard-to-reach areas and / or besieged cities. Adding to the dire situation, most of the warring parties have continuously been denying humanitarian agencies access to the civilians in need, and bureaucratic hurdles of various forms often cause aid to arrive too late or not at all.
According to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, most if not all sides involved in the conflict are guilty of committing war crimes. This includes murder, torture, rape, and forced disappearances. Government-led droppings of barrel bombs on rebel-controlled areas have killed thousands, which may well qualify as a massacre. Additionally, ISIL fighters have also carried out mass killings of rival armed groups, members of security forces and religious minorities, as well as beheaded hostages, several of which were of Western origin. Most recently, the Syrian government stands accused of having used Sarin gas (reminiscent of an incident in 2013) when attacking locations in the region of Idlib, which would also constitute a war crime. The WHO has since confirmed that symptoms are apparent in the victims which point towards the use of nerve agents, and the United Nations have vowed to further investigate the matter.
Recent UN Responses:
The UN strives to deliver aid to everyone in need, and has launched multiple inter-agency operations aimed at delivering multi-sectoral assistance. Notably, inter-agency convoys have been sent to the crisis regions, to deliver food, water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, and other various items and services (more details to be found when looking at the first link in the “Sources & Further Reading” section). Additionally, supplies are being flown into Syria by airlift as well. The UN is also working with partner organizations, such as the ICRC and others, to try and provide the necessary support to the people of Syria, has established UN hubs in Aleppo, Homs, Tartous, and Quamishli, and has set up the Syria Humanitarian Fund, with the purpose to gather funds for aiding the Syrian population. These funds are then managed by OCHA, and also distributed to possible NGOs, should they be involved.
Whether these measures suffice, and whether they achieve the goals that they were created for is yet to show. What remains certain is that the humanitarian crisis in Syria is without precedent, and with every day that passes more innocent people fall victim to the cruelties of war. Finding a resolution encompassing the entirety of the issue may be difficult, but all the more necessary.
Sources & Further reading
· https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/system/files/documents/files/syrian_arab_republic_2017_un_inter-agency_humanitarian_operations_as_of_5_april_2017_0.pdf (Map of UN efforts in the crisis regions in 2017)
· http://www.unocha.org/syrian-arab-republic/syria-crisis-regional-overview/syria-country-office/syria-humanitarian-fund (Website of the Syria Humanitarian Fund)
· https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKb9GVU8bHE (VOX 2015 – Syrian conflict explained)
· http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/syria-civil-war-explained-160505084119966.html (Mostly Maps and statistics)
· http://syria.liveuamap.com/en (Interactive Map of the newest developments in the Syrian Civil War)
· http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/27/world/meast/syria-civil-war-fast-facts/ (Useful little timeline for overview)
· https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201704061052350766-autopsy--chemical-weapon-idlib/ (Report from Thursday, 8th of April, about the Idlib chemical weapons attack)
· http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/04/idlib-gruesome-170405115057834.html (Witness reports on the Idlib chemical weapons attack)
· https://www.nzz.ch/meinung/giftgas-in-syrien-die-ohnmacht-der-zivilisierten-welt-ld.155478 (Comment on Western responses)
· https://www.icrc.org/en/where-we-work/middle-east/syria (ICRC report)
· http://www.unocha.org/syria (OCHA - Responsible agency for humanitarian coordination - statistics, and status of funding)
· https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Syria/2017_Syria_hno.pdf (Humanitarian Needs Overview)
· http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/3RP-Regional-Strategic-Overview.pdf (Regional Refugee Resilience Plan 2017-2018)
· http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocusRel.asp?infocusID=146 (Official UN site)