Aid chiefs: World utterly failing Syria after 4 years of conflict

Humanitarian groups still struggling to alleviate plight of civilians caught up in conflict.

March 12, 2015 02:30
3 minute read.
turkey syria border

A MAKESHIFT refugee camp in Suruc on the Turkey, Syria border. (photo credit: JONATHAN SPYER)


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LONDON - The world is "not even close to grasping the magnitude" of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, an aid chief said ahead of the fourth anniversary of the peaceful protests that marked the start of the devastating conflict.

"We may live with the aftermath of the Syrian conflict for generations," Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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The conflict has killed some 200,000 people, created more than 3.9 million refugees, mostly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and displaced 7.6 million people within Syria, U.N. figures show.

Aid experts blame the dire humanitarian situation on the hostile environment facing relief efforts, lack of political will by the protagonists and their backers, and a lack of cash.

"This is the biggest humanitarian crisis in a generation," Egeland said in an interview on Tuesday.


The conflict that began in March 2011 was initially fought between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and peaceful protesters demanding his overthrow. Since then the war has expanded into a civil war with regional backers.

Last June the radical Muslim group Islamic State joined the fighting, and it now controls a self-declared caliphate in a swathe of Sunni territory in Syria and Iraq, attracting foreign recruits and world attention with its military advances and slickly produced videos.

"Attention has focused so much on Islamic State that it is important to remind people what is happening on the government side," Egeland said.

Both Islamic State and the Syrian government have been accused of crimes against humanity by the United Nations.

In the fourth year of the conflict, government forces carried out at least 1,450 indiscriminate attacks from the air, Human Rights Watch said last month.

According to the New York-based group, these attacks often use barrel bombs, containers packed with explosives and projectiles that are dropped from helicopters.


Humanitarian groups are finding it hard to alleviate the plight of civilians caught up in the conflict.

Before the conflict 2,500 doctors worked in Aleppo, Syria's second biggest city, but the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) estimates fewer than 100 remain.

"Our organization should be running some of the largest medical programs in its 44-year history," Dr. Joanne Liu, MSF's international president, said in a statement on Wednesday. "But it's not. And the question is, why not?"

MSF was forced to reduce its activities inside Syria when five staff members were abducted by Islamic State in January 2014. "We could no longer trust that our teams would not be harmed," said Liu.

MSF has also been unsuccessful in starting projects in government-held territory. The access granted by government forces to humanitarian groups has "decreased dramatically" in recent months, Nigel Pont of Mercy Corps, a global aid agency, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The United Nations Security Council is "failing Syria" by not implementing resolutions it has passed unanimously, the NRC said in a report on Thursday.

The resolutions, which authorize U.N. aid missions to enter the country without the Syrian government's consent, have been "ignored or undermined," it said.

"I haven't seen the Security Council so defunct since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003," said Egeland. "I think they are not willing."


NGOs also say there is a shortage of donations. "There is less money per victim than a year ago," Egeland said.

In December, a lack of funds forced the United Nations to stop providing food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Private funding for the Syrian crisis "has always been low," Nigel Pont of Mercy Corps said.

"It's been going on for a long time and it's pretty depressing," he said.

Unlike natural disasters "which could happen to anyone," the complex geopolitical causes of the Syrian crisis do not generate the same emotional response from potential donors, he said.

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