HUMANITARIAN GOVERNANCE IN SYRIA - Agenfor International

HUMANITARIAN GOVERNANCE IN SYRIA

DOSSIER
Due to the unrest in Syria, the humanitarian situation inside Syria has worsened.


The UN now estimates [1] that 2.5 million people are in need of assistance including an estimated 1.2 million internally displaced people – half of whom are children.

HUMANITARIAN WORK AND THE ROLE OF NGOS

Syria has a strong tradition of religiously-inspired giving, by both Muslims and Christians. Like many other countries, Syria also has a range of charitable organizations sponsored by society leaders or wealthy individuals. These types of traditional ‘charity’ associations (jam’iyat khairiya) have existed in Syria since before independence. Official estimates of registered NGOs range from 300 to 2,000[2]

From day one of the unrest in Syria, a new informal grouping has emerged and worked on delivering new services. However, the quick and efficient organization of those groups and the trusted links they created quickly with main media channels and with international organizations and their consistent (against the government) position have raised many questions regarding their neutrality.

Although those groups worked under the title of “humanitarian and civil society activities”, their close links to opposition made them looked at by the Syrian government as part of the logistical and media arms of the fighters.

According to Marieke Bosman, their activities include setting up field hospitals; provision of medicine, food, non-food items and funds to displaced families; submitting  reports to foreign media and NGOs on the human rights situation, and repairing damaged homes.

HUMANITARIAN EFFORT IN SYRIA

 

A convoy of Ahl al-Sham non-food items sent to Homs

It is possible to identify different types of humanitarian operations as follows:Funding and in-kind support is being provided by local Syrians, and also channeled in from Syrian, Arab and other individuals and organizations in the Arab world and Europe. Although no clear overall statistics are available regarding the scale of the humanitarian work, the scale of the displaced persons indicates that a huge operation is taking place.

  1. Individual initiatives. The main contributors to this type of aid are the Syrian people themselves. Relatives, neighbors and friends are traditionally supporting each other. With the scale of crises, people are sharing homes, food and cloths. Syrian expatriates are sending financial aid to their relatives (with restrictions due to US and EU sanctions on banking transactions).  Wealthy individuals are buying food and non-food items and distributing them personally to displaced people in their neighboring area.
  2. Local communities’ initiatives. Charity’ associations (jam’iyat khairiya) have contributed to the humanitarian effort; they used to have a list of registered families in order to provide monthly aid to them. Their operations scaled up with the crises to expand their services to cover displaced persons. Fundraising is taking place on a weekly basis after Friday prayers; the collected money is used to support this type of humanitarian work. Interesting new initiatives have also emerged like the (Ahl al-Sham) joint initiative with four NGOs. It has consolidated its effort to do the required work more effectively. Ahl al-Sham (People of Damascus) initiative was capable of expanding its coverage area to target affected families in several neighborhoods and in various sectors.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response declared the following:

THE EU IS AT THE MOMENT THE BIGGEST DONOR TO THE CRISIS: €119M FROM THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION; AND CLOSE TO €250M IF YOU ADD UP THE EFFORTS OF ALL EU MEMBER STATES IN ADDITION TO €96M FROM ECHO.

She also defended their political neutrality position by the following statement on 06/11/2012:

SINCE THE BEGINNING OF SEPTEMBER, ROUGHLY HALF OF FOOD ASSISTANCE HAS GONE TO DISPUTED OR REBEL-CONTROLLED AREAS – AND THE OTHER HALF TO GOVERNMENT-CONTROLLED AREAS. WE HAVE GONE FROM A SITUATION IN WHICH ONLY THE INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS (AND THE SYRIAN RED CRESCENT) WERE ALLOWED TO WORK INSIDE SYRIA, TO A SITUATION WHERE THE UN AND 8 INTERNATIONAL NGOS, IN ADDITION TO 90 LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS, HAVE BEEN DRAWN INTO THE RELIEF EFFORT.

ECHO FACTSHEET, issued the following figures related to International humanitarian Assistance to Syria crisis

(Sources: EDRIS, USAID and UN OCHA FTS, exchange rate €1 = $1.27)

GOVERNMENT EFFORT

The government of Syria was providing (before the crises) 500 Billion Syrian pounds (8 Billion USD) / year as subsidized goods and services to citizens. Goods range from diesel used in heating and transportation (with 40% of its market value), to electricity for houses (35% of its market value, bread (25% of its market value), and free education and medical services. Although the Syrian government has contributed to the humanitarian effort, the international sanction that was imposed on Syria at the very early stages of the unrest hindered its capability to provide the expected support.

THE ROLE OF EU SANCTIONS

EU was the main trading partner with Syria; therefore, the early and immediate sanction imposed by the EU on the Syrian economy had a great direct and negative impact on the Syrian people. The Syrian currency was degraded from 45 Syrian pounds to the USD to 80 Syrian Pounds to the USD (lost about 45% of its value). The negative impact caused by the restrained capability of the Syrian government to provide the humanitarian aid usually offered significantly overshadowed the scant effect of the limited funding provided by EU countries for that purpose.

Private businesses that are considered exporter to EU market were also negatively affected by the sanction.

HUMANITARIAN GOVERNANCE

The lack of adequate coordination among all parties is seriously impacting the humanitarian operation in Syria, and hence aid is provided according to the availability and quality of information and ease of access and not according to the actual immediate needs on the ground.

Currently, coordination committees for humanitarian effort have been established at the central and local level. However, the challenge remains how those committees will be capable of integrating and coordinating humanitarian effort among state agencies, Local NGOs and International aid organizations.

Politically the EU, US and the Syrian government don`t share the same vision of the future of Syria, however, they should share the same vision of the humanitarian effort and how they should accomplish it. In New York on 26 September, an informal ministerial-level consultation on the humanitarian situation in Syria and neighboring countries, Agreed that humanitarian assistance to people in need is more essential than ever and cannot and should not be subjected to political conditions/solutions.

The lack of trust among different key players on the humanitarian operations is making it harder for any of them to set up an efficient and effective process. Not to mention the humanitarian work in neighboring countries that are below any known standard of such work. The people coming from za`atrai camp in Jordan or from camps in turkey have bad memories regarding how they were treated and what facilities have been provided to them. There is a great concern of lack of governance at those locations as well.

Refugee camp in Jordan

Refugee camp in Turkey

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the main contributor to the humanitarian effort in Syria are the Syrian people themselves, due to the good governance each individual is implementing at a  personal level ( he knows exactly where he is spending his money). The problem though is that with the escalation of the unrest, wealthy people lost their business and forced to leave the country and the money from Syrian expatriate are mainly channeled by international NGOs due to the sanction imposed on the Syrian banking system.

If there is no quick and decisive action to implement Good Humanitarian  governance to the humanitarian work in Syria and in the neighboring countries, then no matter how much more international donors are sending, the impact of what is being spent on the ground is very limited.

THE OPINIONS AND VIEWS EXPRESSED HERE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND NOT AGENFOR MEDIA

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