(New York) – Donors attending a pledging conference for Syria should push the Syrian government to eliminate obstacles to effective aid distribution, and increase their contributions. The conference will be held in Kuwait City on January 15, 2014.
“We desperately need additional funding for humanitarian aid to Syria,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But donors should keep in mind that the human cost of this crisis has been increased exponentially by Syria’s policy of deliberately obstructing aid.”
On October 2, 2013, in a non-binding presidential statement, the UN Security Council called on all parties and “in particular the Syrian authorities” to promptly facilitate safe and unhindered access to those in need “through the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries.”
In the ensuing three months, Syrian authorities have implemented a trickle of measures, including addressing a large backlog of visa requests for humanitarian workers. But these have not included key changes such as allowing access into besieged towns, and consequently have had little impact in alleviating the ongoing crisis, Human Rights Watch said.
While Syria has permitted some movement of aid across borders from neighboring Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, it has steadfastly refused to allow aid in from Turkey to reach those in need in northern Syria. Syrian authorities insist that instead of taking that direct route deliveries must make circuitous journeys as much as four times longer, and including dozens of checkpoints.
Syrian authorities have also been unwilling to allow access into besieged areas or civilians to leave towns where an estimated 288,000 people are trapped with little or no aid. On January 5, the Palestinian Association for Human Rights/Syria reported that 28 people had died in Yarmouk, including from malnutrition and inability to access medical treatment, because of the government-imposed siege on the neighborhood, which is just 10 kilometers south of central Damascus. Armed opposition groups have also besieged an estimated 40,000 people in two Shia villages just north of the city of Aleppo, trapping civilians and restricting their access to humanitarian assistance.
“Rather than congratulating Syria on taking small steps that are years overdue, donors should be demanding immediate access to besieged towns and supporting cross-border aid from Turkey,” Hicks said. “Russia and Iran in particular should press Syria to eliminate obstacles to humanitarian aid.”
The UN Security Council should increase the pressure by adopting a binding resolution on aid and making clear that failure to abide by it will result in targeted sanctions. Under international humanitarian law, all parties to an armed conflict are obligated to facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need. Starvation as a method of warfare is prohibited.
The number of people in need in Syria grew from 6.8 million in 2013 to an estimated 9.3 million in 2014, raising funding needs to an estimated US$6.5 billion in 2014. Funding requirements for 2013 of US$4.4 million were only 70 percent fulfilled by the end of the year, according to the UN.
International donors should provide generous financial support to humanitarian agencies working in Syria, its neighbors and Egypt where local governments host more than 2.37 million refugees.