Syria: Humanitarian Assistance Deadlocked

Two years of war has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, where the needs far outstrip the aid that's being provided. 

NEW YORK, MARCH 7, 2013 — After two years of extremely violent conflict and a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, aid has fallen drastically short of what is needed, and the inability to secure a political resolution of the conflict must not be used as an excuse for the failed humanitarian response, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

Syria’s previously well-functioning health system has collapsed. Food shortages are commonplace, and water and electricity supply are severely disrupted. Parties involved in the Syrian conflict must negotiate an agreement on humanitarian aid in order to facilitate its delivery from neighboring countries and across front lines within Syria, MSF said. Meanwhile, governments, the United Nations, and international donors must acknowledge the country’s fragmentation and help support non-governmental aid operations. The provision of impartial aid to areas controlled by the opposition and to neglected zones must no longer be subject to sanctioning by the Syrian government.

“While the authorities in Damascus hold the key to breaking this deadlock and removing all obstacles to independent aid across the country, we call on the parties involved, for want of a political resolution, to reach at least a basic agreement on humanitarian aid to facilitate its provision through the most effective means possible,” said Christopher Stokes, MSF general director.

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According to the United Nations, 2.5 million Syrians have been displaced in the country, while 57 percent of hospitals have been damaged and 36 percent are non-functional. These statistics do not include private clinics or makeshift hospitals that are destroyed or damaged.

“Medical aid is being targeted, hospitals destroyed, and medical personnel captured,” said Dr. Marie-Pierre Allié, MSF president.

More than 5,000 Syrians continue to flee the country every day, bringing the total number of refugees to one million people, according to the United Nations. Most refugees have settled in neighboring countries, where humanitarian assistance is insufficient.

In government-controlled areas of Syria, aid is managed by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and other local organizations authorized by the government to distribute aid. United Nations agencies and international aid organizations authorized by the government are obliged to work in partnership with local agencies that have already reached operational capacity and are restricted to certain areas of the country.

In opposition-controlled areas, international aid is extremely restricted. The majority of aid to civilians comes from the Syrian Diaspora, countries supporting the opposition, and politico-religious welfare networks, and is thus subject to the political agendas of each of these stakeholders. The Syrian government has not authorized MSF to operate in areas controlled by the state. The organization has been able to operate three hospitals in the north of the country, and has witnessed firsthand the insufficient aid response.

The capacity of humanitarian organizations to deploy impartial aid throughout Syria must be urgently increased. MSF also calls on belligerent parties to respect all medical structures in the country.

In the meantime, the absence of a formal agreement on the provision of aid should not prevent international NGOs from taking action in any area of Syria, regardless of the controlling authority.

MSF operates three hospitals in northern Syria and has treated 16,000 patients and carried out 1,300 surgical operations. MSF teams are also providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. MSF does not accept any government funding for its work in Syria and in neighboring countries; it is requesting contributions from private donors to fund its work.