Syria allows humanitarian aid into 7 besieged areas

The United Nations said Tuesday that Syria has agreed to allow access for humanitarian aid to seven besieged areas of the war-torn country. The areas involved are Deir ez-Zor, Foah and Kafraya in Idleb, and Madaya, Zabadani, Kafr Batna and Madamiyet Elsham in rural Damascus.

Damascus gave the green light to the aid convoys after the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura visited the capital on Tuesday.

De Mistura earlier in the day had announced that an aid convoy would be sent Wednesday to several towns under siege by the regime or the rebels.

“It is clear it is the duty of the government of Syria to want to reach every Syrian person wherever they are and allow the UN to bring humanitarian aid, particularly now after so long time,” he told journalists after a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.


Refugee Camps are anything but temporary

More than 600,000 refugees have flooded into Europe this year. However, more than 58 million displaced people remain, mostly in the developing world. Millions are stuck in refugee camps, housed in row after row of tents, enduring the cold and blistering heat and dust that blows in from every direction.

There is a spirit of technological optimism in the humanitarian community that sees refugees’ problems as logistical issues amenable to high-tech solutions. In Turkey refugees use debit cards provided by the World Food Program to shop in stores rather than waiting for food packages. In Jordan, refugees get texts from UNHCR when aid money is deposited and then use an iris scanner to withdraw cash at an ATM. Facebook just announced it will bring the Internet to camps around the world.

Refugee camps are meant for short-term emergencies. They are supposed to be temporary way stations where displaced people can get medical care, food supplies, and shelter until they can either return home or be resettled elsewhere.

But although camps are designed to be temporary, the average length of stay is now more than 17 years. More than half of the world’s displaced people are in what UNHCR calls “protracted displacement.” In Nepal’s Beldangi Camp, refugees have waited 18 years to resettle or return to Bhutan. In the Republic of Georgia, people displaced from Abkhazia 23 years ago are still crammed into decaying Soviet hotels that have become vertical refugee camps. Many Palestinian camps, some almost 70 years old, are now outright slums.

In order to pursue the explicit goal of keeping displaced people from being stuck in poverty and violence or to achieve the implicit goal of preventing an even more massive influx of migration into Europe, donor countries must find a way to turn camps into places where people can rebuild their lives.


Three reasons humanitarian aid fails

In 2008, Indiana University geographer Elizabeth Dunn went to Georgia on a Fulbright grant. After a year living near a 2500-resident camp, she decided to spend the next several summers living with the residents. Her research focus turned to how the refugees rebuilt their lives using humanitarian aid from government agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

What surprised Dunn was that much of the aid was not helpful. Dunn says the problems she saw in Georgia are typical of many refugee relief efforts, including the current Syrian crisis. In an interview with Science, she lays out three lessons on humanitarian aid from the perspectives of those who receive it, and she explains why such aid often fails.

1. Not communicating a plan – Because aid agencies, NGOs, and other humanitarian groups often compete with each other for funding, they don’t always tell each other—and refugees—what they’re doing. That includes what kind of aid they plan to deliver and when, Dunn says. With no coordinated plan, and no plan for communicating it to the people receiving aid, agencies force refugees and the displaced into an awkward position: They can’t make any plans using their own resources.

2. Not treating refugees like individuals -When the media talk about the mass migration of refugees, it tends to describe them as “one giant moving mass of people, like a river or a flood,” Dunn says. But an architect from Damascus or a computer programmer from Aleppo will need very different aid from someone who used to be a rural farmer or wedding singer. When government agencies or NGOs hand out in-kind assistance—such as these standardized housing kits recently designed by IKEA—they can effectively deny people the ability to combine their own skills and resources with aid to “come up with the solution that’s right for them,” she says. In the aftermath of the Georgia-Russia conflict, for example, “there was a big push” in Georgia to immediately roll out a multi-million-dollar breastfeeding support program. The reason? Breastfeeding has been an important need in other places receiving development aid, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, the water is polluted with pathogens like cholera, and it’s very hard to get infant formula. In Georgia, “it was a crazy use of money,” Dunn says, because there was no water shortage and formula was readily available.

3. Not modifying programs to fit the need – “There’s an idea that that refugees should take anything, whether or not it’s appropriate,” Dunn says. The Georgian camp, for example, frequently received large boxes full of used stuffed animals, despite the fact that average age of the residents in the camp was 54. Moving on to the current Syrian refugee crisis, she says that providing means of communicating and gathering information, such as cell phone towers and charging stations, should be a first priority. Not only can aid workers do “a much better job” of announcing aid if they have everybody’s cell phone numbers, but they can also figure out what refugees need using the exact same tools.


US and Russia announce plan for Humanitarian Aid and a Cease-Fire in Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced that they had agreed on the delivery over the next few days of desperately needed aid to besieged Syrian cities, to be followed by a “cessation of hostilities” within a week on the way to a more formal cease-fire.

“The real test is whether all the parties honor those commitments,” Kerry said, sitting next to Mr. Lavrov, the two men doing their best to appear cooperative after weeks of trading accusations over the accelerated Russian air campaign that has given new support to the government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

Crucial Syria talks begin

With dim prospects for success, world powers gathered in Munich, Germany, to find ways to end the bloodletting in Syria and open channels of desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Russia, which is backing the Syrian regime, is proposing a cease-fire to begin March 1. The suspicion is that Russia would prefer a cease-fire to begin three weeks from now in order to provide time to finish crushing the rebels and return the besieged city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, to the hands of President Bashar Assad.

The United States, Saudi Arabia, other Arab Gulf states and much of the West want to get rid of Assad, saying his brutality and willingness to use chemical weapons against his own people make him more suited for a war-crimes tribunal than a presidential palace. But Russia and Iran remain Assad’s firm backers, and their forces have shifted the balance of power in war-torn Syria back to Assad after nearly five years of civil war.

Another goal of the Munich talks is to persuade the warring parties to return to negotiations in Geneva on Feb. 25. The first attempt at negotiations broke down earlier this month when opposition groups walked out over the Aleppo offensive.

[Read full Los Angeles Times article]

No amount of money can end Syria’s suffering

Aid teams in northern Syria are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the numbers of refugees. No amount of money and supplies can end Syria’s suffering. That must come from politicians. Following is a piece from the international aid organization Mercy Corps:

A steady stream of people – most on foot – walk in one direction toward the Turkish border. There is an unspoken truth these brave people share among themselves: they fear the siege of Aleppo, which pre-war was Syria’s largest city, is about to begin.

Our Mercy Corps humanitarian aid teams in Syria daily witness new waves of displaced families forced to flee their homes in search of safety. After five years of war, it is hard to imagine that the conditions in Syria could get any worse, but they have. Every time we think we’ve seen it all, the conflict takes another turn and surprises us.

In recent weeks, there has been a huge increase in civilian casualties as the bombing has intensified, with tens of thousands of people arriving at the border with Turkey. In the last few days alone, camps near the Turkish border have effectively doubled in size and there is no end in sight to the long lines of displaced people desperately trying to survive. Our estimates say that roughly 70,000 people are currently moving towards the border.

Amid the winter cold, more people arrive without basic necessities – no food, no water and no blankets. There is no place for people to sleep and even makeshift shelters are increasingly difficult to come by. Despite terrible conditions, our teams are working hard to live up to the humanitarian imperative that drives them. In collaboration with our local partners, we’re positioned around the border, meeting refugees with food, water and basic items, such as mattresses and blankets, where we can.

The unbearable reality is that no amount of money and no shipment of supplies can end Syria’s suffering. The current humanitarian situation in Syria is shameful and morally unacceptable, and the end of this grave human crisis is long overdue. We must dial up the pressure on political leaders to force an end to the war.

[Read full article in The Guardian]

$10 Billion pledged at Syrian donor conference

The Guardian highlights the main points as the London conference closes.

Billions more in international aid pledges for Syrian refugees

At the recent conference attended by 70 world leaders, including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the US secretary of state John Kerry, and the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to double UK aid to Syria through to 2020.

Britain, already the second-largest bilateral donor in Syria behind the US, announced it would double its own funding to Syria to £2.3bn up to 2020. The announcement means the UK government’s 2015’s pledge is doubled for 2016.

All this still leaves the UN short of the $9bn it deems necessary this year to improve schooling, access to work and help Syrians survive. The UN only received half of the funds it sought for Syria last year, Cameron points out, and the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood said unless funding was increased “another 1 million people will turn their back on Syria”.

The prime minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, who is also co-chairing the conference said it was in Europe’s self interest to do more to help Syrians. “If we don’t invest more in the neighborhood and neighboring countries will have an even bigger problem than we have today,” she said on Thursday. She also urged rich Gulf countries to do more to help.

[The Guardian]

UN asks for $861 million to help Iraq

The United Nations appealed on Sunday for $861 million to help Iraq meet a big funding gap in its 2016 emergency response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war against Islamic State.

Baghdad, whose revenues have fallen as oil prices have plunged, has said it would manage to finance less than half of its $1.56 billion plan to assist 10 million people in need.

U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Lise Grande said she expected the crisis in Iraq “to widen and worsen” in coming months. The United Nations expects huge numbers of civilians to flee Mosul when Iraqi forces mount an offensive to retake the northern city from Islamic State, which the authorities have pledged to do this year.

Among the 10 million Iraqis requiring urgent assistance are more than 3.3 million people displaced by the conflict with Islamic State since 2014 and a quarter million people from neighboring Syria who have fled from their country’s nearly five-year-old war, according to the United Nations. Children make up half of the displaced population.