BEIRUT: The humanitarian operations director for the U.N. denied Tuesday that any relief money would be given directly to the Syrian government in response to criticism from the opposition that a $519 million response plan, supposedly earmarked for the authorities in Damascus, was “hypocritical.”
In Beirut after a four-day visit to Syria, John Ging told a news conference that “the U.N. humanitarian assistance is not handed over to the Syrian government, not one dollar,” but rather, he added, channeled through partners on the ground and “in accordance with humanitarian principles which put on all of us the obligation to ensure that the aid is delivered with integrity, neutrality, and on the basis of need.”
Over the weekend Syria’s opposition National Coalition launched a petition against the U.N. and the U.S. government over the $519 million Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan, announced by the global body Dec. 19, and aimed at, in the U.N.’s words, “supporting the Government of Syria’s efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to the affected populations.”Read the rest.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is having a hard time countering stories that aid is to be handed over to the Assad regime. The problem seems to have begun with this announcement of the Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP) for Syria for 1 January-30 June 2013. As the Assad regime is still the legally recognised government, UN agencies are legally required to work with them, and so the document states that the plan is being launched by “the Government of Syria, in collaboration with UN agencies.” It also includes this paragraph:
All humanitarian assistance is, and will continue to be, delivered with full respect to the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic during the implementation of this Response Plan. Decisions on strategic or logistical issues including field office locations should be done after formal consultations with the government in order to receive the clearance and accreditation.... and also this:
This Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan aims at supporting the Government of Syria’s efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to the affected populations. It will cover the period from 1 January 2013 until the end of June 2013. The financial requirements amount to $519,627,047.A number of people (see EA WorldView, Daily Kos, Avaaz) have taken these words to mean that the UN is providing funds or materials of that amount direct to the government, but later in the same document it makes clear that “the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) has been designated as the leading national provider of humanitarian relief.” According to Kristyan Benedict of Amnesty, the Syrian government gave a list of 110 local NGOs that the UN could contract for food assistance. The World Food Program reviewed their operational capabilities and selected 44.
There has historically been distrust of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent by some opposition activists, but it has also faced obstruction by the regime when trying to reach opposition areas. The SARC is a recognised member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The SHARP budget is intended to help four million people inside Syria, including two million internally displaced people, over six months. That works out as a budget of seventy cents per person per day, including overheads. It was launched simultaneously with the Syria Regional Response Plan (SRRP) to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, budgeted at $1.1 billion. That effort is headed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). So far only 18% of the budget has been raised.
UNOCHA head Valerie Amos describes the humanitarian situation as “catastrophic” and “clearly getting worse.” Paranoia about the UN’s relief efforts won’t help.
UPDATE 29 January 2012:
From yesterday, a press conference by John Ging, Director of Operations, on last week’s UNOCHA visit to Syria, worth watching in full on UN Web TV.