Osman Mirghani/Perpetuating Syrian Suffering


Perpetuating Syrian Suffering
Osman Mirghani
Saturday, 6 Dec, 2014 .

The situation in Syria is going from bad to worse. The major strategy shift the US administration announced months ago to primarily focus on defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and postpone addressing the other complex aspects of the crisis has not made any fundamental change to the reality on the ground. Airstrikes on ISIS have not had the desired impact. Many had warned that aerial bombardment on its own would not succeed in eliminating a group as fluid and mobile as ISIS. With the collapse of the Western strategy, and the slim likelihood of any major breakthroughs taking place in the last two years of US President Barack Obama’s final term in office, the suffering of the Syrian people is only set to increase. Interest in the fate of the Syrian people has declined and a state of donor fatigue appears to have taken over the West.

The term donor fatigue is often used when international aid retreats either due to a decline in interest or the lack of sufficient resources, either by individuals or states, to provide aid at a time when the world is beset by multiple crises. The casualty this time is the Syrian people who have suffered from war for well over three years, with no indication that a solution will be found soon. The announcement by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) a few days ago that it would suspend aid to 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a lack of funds represents an ethical and international scandal by all accounts. Under the framework of the UN food program, food vouchers were given out to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey. Without these vouchers many families will go hungry. Sadly, the funding crisis did not come as a surprise. The WFP has earlier issued appeals, warning the international community that it would have to suspend food vouchers due to the shortage in financial resources and donors’ failure to fulfill their pledges.

WFP has described the development as disastrous, especially as refugees are already struggling to survive harsh winter conditions, especially bleak for those living in camps. The UN agency also warned that, in addition to the risks posed to the health and safety of refugees, the suspension of aid could lead to further tensions in host countries that face increasing pressures on resources. The tragedy does not end at this point; WFP has also said that it may have to suspend a similar program for those inside Syria from January.

The worsening suffering reflects the scale of the international community’s failure to address the crisis at military, diplomatic and humanitarian levels. The painful truth is that there is no clear vision or a strong political will to speed up efforts to find a solution to a crisis that has been handled with nothing but confusion despite the many conferences held in its name. In the absence of any clear strategy or specific and agreed peace plan, some Western powers have recently tried to promote a small-scale plan to “freeze” fighting in certain cities and reach a truce under an unwritten agreement between the Syrian government and opposition, with the two sides keeping their forces in position. This loose agreement has been promoted on the basis that it would allow humanitarian aid to enter besieged towns. Another objective of the agreement is to allow government forces and “moderate” rebels to devote themselves to fighting ISIS and other jihadist groups. This line of thinking is closer to a daydream. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the government and the opposition fighting in the same trench against ISIS and jihadist groups while keeping in mind that once they accomplish their mission they will devote their efforts to fighting each other.

Such unrealistic plans are only meant to pull the wool over people’s eyes, or represent an attempt to cover the incompetence of the international community. For the time being, the region will bear the consequences of the Syrian crisis, as the Syrian people pay a hefty price. The suffering of the Syrians—of whom more than 200,000 have died, 7 million are internally displaced and 3 million have become refugees abroad—does not feature on the top of the world’s list of priorities because it is now focused on the war on ISIS. The US Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks on Wednesday confirmed this clearly when he warned us that the war will last for several years. If one is to draw a lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on ISIS will be very long and expensive and does not guarantee that stability and security will be restored in the region afterwards. Syrians have been condemned to suffer for many more years to come. Shameful.