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On Syria: Humanitarian Aid

By Amy Brown
25 Feb 2016

The United States and Russia announced on February 11 a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria. The plan includes increased humanitarian aid, in addition to the ceasing of hostilities, and does not include ISIS or the Nursa front as they are both UN-recognized terrorist organizations. The plan, if executed as announced, will be the first formally declared end to fighting in Syria since 2011. While the plan is a step forward in stopping the five-year conflict, is this humanitarian aid and tentative cessation really enough?

Since the Syrian conflict began, 11 percent of the state’s original population has been killed or injured. The conflict has been so deadly that the United Nations gave up trying to count bodies two years ago, in early 2014. Life expectancy has plummeted from 70.5 years to 55.4, leaving Syria on par with Somalia. 7.6 million people have been internally displaced and 4 million have fled as refugees, mostly to the European Union or nearby states such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. A sustained, long-term humanitarian aid plan is necessary to assist the Syrian people until the conflict subsides, and prevent displacement as much as possible, but the current agreement appears very tentative. There has been some speculation as to whether all parties will hold up their end of the agreement; aid has been delivered, but the agreement could theoretically collapse at any time since it is not a true cease-fire. A cease-fire involves more international recognized steps and is more permanent than a cessation of hostilities. Some reports state that fighting continued on Friday, despite the announcement declaring it the day that fighting would end.

Numerous organizations have been working to provide aid to prevent so-called secondary deaths – deaths that are caused by a lack of medical access, food, water, or shelter, as opposed to direct violence. Despite these efforts, it appears that 70,000 people have died from these issues. This is due in part, according to some reports, to an international lack of funding. Lack of aid funding simply creates more refugees that feel the need to flee and therefore perpetuate the refugee crisis. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, reminded countries last year that the consequences of underfunding are “catastrophic.” Additionally, it puts pressure on neighboring countries who cannot help as much as an internationally funded effort.

Money will not be the solution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, however. Funding will help assist the millions of Syrians in dire need, but humanitarian aid is not a solution. Ki-moon also remarked that “we know the best humanitarian solution to end the suffering is a political solution to end the war.” Human rights groups have concurred that a political solution is the way to stop the suffering. The humanitarian crisis will continue as long as the Syrian conflict continues. Humanitarian aid, such as the aid hopefully implemented in the cessation of hostilities agreement, will certainly help save thousands of lives – but it’s not a solution. The only true humanitarian solution to Syria is to end the conflict that is the source of the crisis. The true step toward humanitarian solutions would be to resume peace talks as soon as possible, to stop the conflict before more lives are lost.

For more on Syria, check out a companion piece here.

Amy graduated from DePauw University in 2017, and was a Hillman Intern and the Digital Media Assistant Managing Editor at the Prindle Institute for Ethics. At DePauw, she was an Honor Scholar and Political Science major with a Russian studies minor. She has spent time abroad in the Czech Republic and now works in Washington, D.C.
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