x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

World must help in Syria's relief crisis

The UN appeal for an unprecedented $5.2 billion for Syrian refugees should be heeded by major foreign governments that chose not to forestall the still-growing crisis.

The humanitarian situation in Syria is growing worse more quickly that the world's response can keep up. On Friday, the UN launched its biggest-ever appeal for humanitarian relief in Syria.

In January, the UN set a target of $1.5 billion (Dh5.5 billion) to provide aid to 4 million Syrians by June. But the new UN appeal, for $5.2bn, is more than three times as large, for the same period of six months, a worrying indication of the dramatic escalation of the crisis. The UN estimates that 10.25 million Syrians, around half of Syria's population, will need humanitarian help by the end of this year.

The first challenge for the UN will be to secure pledges from countries and organisations to meet the target. But that is not the end of the story. Countries have the habit of pledging generous amounts of money without making good on their promises. During an international conference on Syria in Kuwait in January, for example, donors pledged more than the target set by the UN. But little has been delivered since.

The US and other countries that might be capable of military or political intervention to stop Syria's war have not done so, generally for reasons of their own domestic politics. But the consciences of the West, and of Russia and China, really should impel them to do this much, at least: get out their chequebooks and pay to keep refugees alive.

Most of the $5.2bn is to be spent in countries that host Syrian refugees. Jordan, in particular, has repeatedly appealed for help as the flow of refugees drains that country's already meagre resources. As for those in need inside Syria, local and other NGOs will do what they can.

Even if all the money is pledged and delivered, problems will remain. Host countries may be ill-equipped to begin and sustain logistical operations on the necessary scale; bureaucratic problems and corruption must not slow the flow of aid to those in need. Here too big-power transport and logistics capabilities are essential - and soon: planning must begin now if proper accommodation is to be ready for next winter.

A political solution to the Syrian crisis is becoming less likely by the day, as regional forces become increasingly involved. The world needs to recognise that the situation might go on for years and start dealing with the humanitarian crisis accordingly.

Unable or unwilling to save the Syrian people from this disaster in advance, the world now has a duty to help its victims.