The four-and-a-half-year old Syrian civil war has become an “unsustainable” humanitarian disaster that threatens soon to undermine the stability of neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, United Nations aid officials are warning.
While the world’s wealthier countries this week pledged $3.8 billion in new relief, that is inadequate to deal with the 4 million refugees from the battle zone who have sought refuge outside Syria, combined with 7.6 million Syrians displaced internally, and 12.2 million—half the country’s pre-war population-- considered overall to be in dire need of humanitarian aid—up from 9.3 million at the end of 2013
“We are at a dangerous tipping point,” Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, warned donors at an aid pledging conference in Kuwait. “It is clear that the world's response to the crisis in Syria cannot be business as usual.”
The U.N. response, however, is more of the same: appeals for still more humanitarian aid—this week’s contributions at a donor conference in Kuwait were less than half of the $8.4 billion now needed-- along with ineffectual demands for less brutal behavior from the Assad government, and hopes that regime supporters led by Russia will change Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s scorched-earth strategy.
That seems unlikely. The U.N. Security Council today will, among other things, hear new reports of the use of chlorine gas bombs by the Assad government against its civilian populations as recently as March 17—after reports of similar atrocities led to a March 6 Security Council condemnation and the threat of sanctions against the regime if it used such weapons again.
It will also receive a relatively bland submission from experts monitoring the regime’s public progress in destroying its acknowledged chemical weapons factories and stockpiles, a process unlikely to end before June. Western military authorities have long been skeptical that Assad came anywhere near completely clean in offering up 12 chemical weapons sites—all illegal—for removal.
Meantime, the Assad government continues to block the vast majority of U.N. aid convoys that attempt to cross the lines of conflict on its territory, regardless of official agreements to let them through. —and despite condemnations from the Obama Administration, the United Nations, and others.
In a speech to the Kuwait aid donors conference, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power noted that this year alone the regime denied permission for 30 of 33 U.N. aid convoys intended for what Power called “the hardest-hit areas and most isolated places”—a euphemism that mostly means rebel-held territories.
“This cannot be allowed to go on,” Power intoned—even though it evidently can.
A U.S. government official who spoke to Fox News in the wake of the donor conference was more blunt: “The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate.”
In Kuwait, the Obama Administration contributed $507 million atop about $184 million handed over earlier this year, with $270 million intended to help refugees in Syria itself.
In all, the U.S. is by far the world’s biggest single aid donor to the Syrian crisis, having given or pledged about $3.7 billion since 2011.
But even that is only equivalent to half of what U.N. and other humanitarian agencies say the war-shattered region needs this year alone—if it ever gets there.
The U.S. official who talked with Fox News in the wake of the conference insisted that aid was getting into Syria through other means—via neighboring Turkey and Jordan, for example, though “less frequently from Jordan.”
“There are a lot of people working at great risk “ to help alleviate the situation, he said, including non-government agencies and Syrian local relief organizations, as well as the stymied U.N. agencies that work in Syria in collaboration with the Assad regime.
(About $108 million of the new U.S. aid flow will go to non-government organizations, and more than $370 million to U.N. agencies—including $57 million to UNRWA, the U.N.-sponsored Palestinian relief agency, for Palestinian refugees in and around Syria.)
The U.N. agencies engage in cross-border relief efforts elsewhere along the Syrian border, the U.S. official said.
A State Department fact sheet about the new U.S. aid infusion says in all, it is expected to reach some 5 million of the 12.2 million in desperate need of assistance .
The U.S. official conceded that “as long as the war continues,” the gap” between humanitarian needs and relief “is going to grow bigger.”
And if so, the U.N.’s role may well become even more problematic. Already, a group of non-government organizations that have long supported the world body in its calls for an end to the horror have now openly declared that U.N. Security Council resolutions “have rung hollow for Syrian civilians.”
They note that since the Security Council demanded in February 2014 that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians,” some 76,000 people have been killed, including “thousands” of children.
Meantime the number of Syrians fleeing the country is expected to rise, they said, to 4.3 million by the end of the year.
George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter: @GeorgeRussell or on Facebook.com/GeorgeRussell