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Thursday, 30 May 2024
Syria - In for the Long Run
James Denseiow

Syria has been at war for almost a decade. It faces an economic meltdown with the currency in freefall. 1 in 2 people in Syria have fled their homes. 1 in 2 health centres no longer work. 1 in 2 people are without enough to eat. A global pandemic is causing unrivalled chaos around the world, but Syria has neither the capacity nor intent to address it. As the ICRC put it “Syria is exhausted”.

Against such a backdrop, donors from around 60 countries and international agencies are meeting in Brussels this week for the now annual check in on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region". The aim of the Conference is to maintain the support of the international community behind UN efforts to address critical humanitarian and resilience needs in Syria and the region, and facilitate a lasting political solution in Syria in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

COVID-19, it is acknowledged, is proving an accelerant to many of the negative trends that Syria already faces. Around 11 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and some 9 million don’t have enough to eat. More than half of the population have no jobs.

Previous international conferences on Syria have come at times of uncertainty as to the direction of the conflict and whether the Assad government will survive, in 2019 the Brussels Conference was very much focused on the paradox of reconstruction. Can the international community pay to rebuild Syria if Assad remained in charge was the question that most seemed to answer with a; no we can’t.

Today a global economic recession has made the talk of rebuilding Aleppo or restoring Syria’s schools and hospitals to the pre-war capacity fanciful to say the least. The Caesar Act in the US is tightening the screw and the pressure on third party supporters to the Regime has caused internal splits like never before, typified by the Rami Makhlouf saga.

Instead the focus of the Brussels Conference and perhaps the wider challenge for Syrians in this period is that of survival. The perfect storm of conflict, economics and health is battering at the gates of all Syrians whether they are lucky enough to still have a home, or whether they are displaced internally or externally or as refugees.

The UN estimates that it will need almost $4bn to respond to the next 12-months of humanitarian challenge but recent donor conferences have been unable to meet the demand as the COVID-19 squeeze takes hold. Focusing on survival means persuading the international community that it is in their interests for Syrians not to be dying from starvation.

The fear of another mass migration is perhaps on top of most European policymakers’ agenda when they think about Syria. They would have listened very carefully to the warnings from the head of the UN World Food Programme that “Syria faces the risk of mass starvation or another mass exodus unless more aid money is made available”. David Beasley told the BBC a million Syrians were severely food insecure and some were already dying. Beasley appealed not to humanitarian principles but to strategic interest when he warned that “in desperation, many Syrians might have no choice but to try to flee to Europe as they did in 2015”.

Bizarrely enough, although sadly predictable, there is still huge amounts of political disagreement concerning how to get aid to Syrians who need it. Prominent in this debate is the UN Security Council granting permission for humanitarians to supply aid across borders that the Regime doesn’t control. “The cross-border authorization provides a lifeline for millions of civilians in northwest Syria,” UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock told a virtual meeting of the council. “We cannot reach them without it.” Yet the council resolution authorizing aid convoys from Turkey into northwest Syria will expire July 10 and Russia is pushing against a straightforward renewal.

It would seem that the inertia in Syria’s crisis means that we need to buckle down and prepare for a long term campaign of supporting Syrians as best we can and ensuring that the safety net of humanitarian aid doesn’t become so wide that millions more fall through it.

by : jamse danselow