Syria: Donors Must Address Aid Imbalance

International donors must support cross-border humanitarian operations in opposition-held areas in Syria.

PARIS/NEW YORK, JANUARY 29, 2013—International donors must support cross-border humanitarian operations in opposition-held areas in Syria, the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today, ahead of a major Syria donors conference in Kuwait City.

International aid provided to Syria is not being distributed equitably between government- and opposition-controlled areas. Areas under government control receive nearly all international aid, while opposition-held zones receive only a tiny share.

“The current aid system is unable to address the worsening living conditions facing people inside Syria,” said Dr. Marie-Pierre Allié, president of MSF. “The participants in the Kuwait City conference must acknowledge the legitimacy of cross-border humanitarian operations intended for Syria and grant them the financial, administrative, and logistical support they require.”

Donors meeting in Kuwait City on January 30 have pledged $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian conflict. However, aid operations to date have been implemented primarily from the capital city, Damascus, via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and United Nations agencies working in partnership with the Syrian Red Crescent, the only organization authorized by the government to distribute assistance. As a result, only a fraction of international aid reaches opposition-held areas. More broadly, impartial assistance is insufficient in Syria on each side of the front line and in neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees.

Providing humanitarian aid in wartime requires flexibility and responsiveness, both on the part of aid agencies and institutional donors, MSF said. Otherwise, aid remains a passive witness to the suffering it is intended to ease.

Since June 2012, the Syrian armed opposition has extended and consolidated its hold on large areas of the country. While the exact numbers of Syrians living in those regions cannot be determined, the opposition’s presence in cities, as well as in the densely-populated countryside of Damascus, Aleppo and Idlib, suggests that at least one out of every three Syrians—approximately seven million people—lives in areas beyond government control.

Syrians in opposition-held areas assist civilians with the support of the Syrian diaspora, neighboring countries, and solidarity networks. But this aid is clearly inadequate. Essential items, such as shelter, blankets, fuel, flour, and infant formula, are in short supply. Unofficial health services are targeted by government forces and struggle to meet the needs of numerous wounded and chronically-ill people.

A few international aid organizations, including MSF, are assisting civilians in opposition areas. Since 2011, MSF has been providing medical supplies and drugs to groups of Syrian doctors clandestinely treating wounded patients. MSF’s efforts have expanded in the last six months, with the opening of three hospitals in the northwest of the country, where more than 900 operations have been performed. Nonetheless, this assistance is insufficient given the scale of the medical needs inside Syria.

MSF does not accept governmental funding for its work inside Syria, which is funded solely by private donations.