The Syrian conflict enters its fifth anniversary this week. And as the conflict drags on there are discouraging signs that the international community — particularly those countries that are donors to humanitarian aid operations — are abandoning the Syrian people.
The numbers don’t lie.
In December, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issues its largest-ever humanitarian appeal, asking for over $7 billion to care for the humanitarian needs of people trapped inside Syria and refugees who have fled abroad. These were issued in two separate appeals. According to the most recent data from the UN, donors have so far only contributed $133 million against a $4.5 billion appeal to provide for Syrian refugees; and only $165 million against a $2.89 billion appeal for humanitarian assistance inside Syria. This is amounts to 3% and 6%, respectively, of the most basic needs of human existence and dignity, like food, clothes, shelter, medicines, and birth attendants for pregnant women, among many other things.
Things got so desperate for the World Food Program back in December that they had to resort to the equivalent of a Kick Starter campaign to avoid cutting rations for 1.7 million Syrian refugees.
This is appalling.
But it gets worse. Not only are donors not opening their pockets, they have shut their doors. Earlier this week, a coalition of most of the major humanitarian NGOs operating in and around Syria issued a scathing report, demonstrating an ever-worsening humanitarian situation. The report noted that even as conditions in Syria and surrounding countries deteriorate, countries outside the region with the capacity to resettle refugees have not stepped up to do so.
UN member states are failing to offer anywhere near a sufficient number of places for resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission to the most vulnerable refugees whose needs cannot be met in the countries neighbouring Syria. Approximately two percent of the registered refugee population is currently being offered the option of resettlement or other forms of admission, and far fewer have actually been resettled. For the nearly four million refugees from Syria living in neighbouring countries, the total number of resettlement places and other admissions pledged since late 2013 stands at approximately 80,759
In 2014, the USA accepted about 350 Syrian refugees. But to its credit, it’s planning on accepting 10,000 this year. The USA and other donor countries will also have an opportunity to demonstrate their solidarity with the Syrian people in late March when Kuwait holds a pledging conference to spur donations to the UN’s humanitarian appeals.
To be sure, $7 to $8 billion is a great deal of money. But in budgetary terms it’s a drop in the bucket, particularly if spread across several wealthy countries. With no political solution to the Syrian conflict anywhere in sight it is reasonable to expect more fighting and more displacement as the conflict enters its fifth year.
The international community has totally failed on the political front, with almost no prospect for a pause in fighting anytime soon. The least it can do is provide for the basic humanitarian needs of the people it is letting down.