Humanitarian Workers Struggle to Send Aid to Syrian Civilians in Eastern Ghouta
In the past two weeks alone, 700 people have died in Syria’s eastern Ghouta and at least 2,000 are injured. The death toll in these past weeks reflects increased violence in the region, and is indicative of ineffective, or perhaps underfunded, relief efforts. According to the U.N., only a little more than half of the $4.6 billion required to meet the needs of Syrians in 2017 was received. This year, $3.5 billion is required and only about 5 percent has been received.
Despite the U.N. Security Council resolution establishing a 30-day ceasefire across the country, fighting lulls for only a couple of hours each day, leaving little opportunity for aid distribution. The convoy by the U.N. and its partners last Thursday was unable to complete the delivery of humanitarian assistance to 27,500 people in Douma, East Ghouta because the fighting was so intense.
Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters, “We cannot afford the luxury of giving up, so any type of feeling that the UN is frustrated –forget it, we are not frustrated, we are determined because this otherwise becomes the copycat of Aleppo, and we saw it already happening.” But determination alone is not going to be enough to help the 400,000 people trapped in Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege for the past five years.
The United States and Russia, although on different sides of the conflict, must both start taking more action to promote peace instead of escalating violence. U.N. war crime investigators said Tuesday that airstrikes by Russia and a U.S.-led coalition killed large numbers of civilians in Syria last year. U.N. sources also told the Guardian that the Russian air force has been using unguided “dumb” bombs in Syria, potentially to shift responsibility for possible war crimes and civilian deaths to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Last Tuesday, as part of an offer that would result in rebel forces surrendering their last major stronghold to President Assad, the Russian military said that they would provide transport and security for rebels and their families trying to leave the city. It is unlikely that the rebel forces will surrender their stronghold, which raises questions about how to move forward in a war that is seemingly never ending. Although Assad’s forces have largely destroyed Syria’s mainstream armed opposition, which has lost a lot of support in its calls to oust Assad, an article in Foreign Policy offers possible ways to shift focus away from Assad and towards the voices of those calling for political reform.
The article says that one possibility is to encourage more U.N. participation to set up a series of direct talks with more actors, giving more of a voice to Syrian groups from within the business community, religious and ethnic minorities, women, and civil society. This effort has the potential to promote a more compromising dialogue. Alternatively, the U.S. could encourage the current Geneva peace talks with a U.N.-led national dialogue, which would ideally “create a venue to discuss Syria’s political future and reach agreement on core issues.” Although this method has mixed results, “generating broad-based dialogue outside of formal government institutions...can play an important role in shaping national politics.”
Making efforts to create productive dialogue and finding a more viable route towards peace are especially critical in light of the humanitarian crisis that Syria is facing. According to Mercy Corps, half of Syria’s pre-war population, more than 11 million people, have been killed or displaced. Millions of people are living without enough food, water, and other basic necessities. It is imperative that large, powerful countries, such as the U.S. and Russia, become more involved, but also listen to the voices of Syrian citizens so that the country is able to move forward once the conflict eventually ends. In the meantime, the U.N. and Russia must work together to ensure that citizens living in besieged areas such as Eastern Ghouta are able to receive humanitarian aid, and to promote the reduction of violence on both sides.