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.”
The Response Plan is designed to cover the period from Jan. 1, 2013 until the end of June, and “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates is the Government focal point in charge of the supervision of implementation of humanitarian projects and coordination of the various sectors,” according to the plan.
The National Coalition, which is recognized by over 100 countries, rejects the plan on the grounds that coordinating humanitarian aid in conjunction with the Syrian regime contradicts claims from the U.N. and others that the government itself is responsible for much of the destruction.
“Is it logical to provide aid to a regime responsible for destroying cities, bombing hospitals and bakeries and displacing population, so it can fix the dire situation it had created?” the petition asks.
Ging said that while the U.N. and partners on the ground are reaching some 1.5 million people each day, there were still places beyond their reach.
“Part of the objective of this mission is to expand the reach, to get to more of these places, quicker, in a bigger way, and to deliver more assistance to more people,” he said, adding that the U.N. was now working to ensure the consistent delivery of aid across conflict lines.
The U.N. team, comprising various agency emergency directors, visited the Damascus area, the southern city of Deraa and the towns of Homs and Talbiseh in central Syria and witnessed “a shocking state of humanitarian suffering,” according to Ging.
Basic needs such as food, water, medicine, education and sanitation are not being met, he said, adding that he was “moved when you see firsthand that fellow human beings have been reduced to this level of destitution, and suffering, both physical and psychological.”
While the lack of basic provisions was expected, what came as a surprise, Ging said, was the widespread destruction of vital infrastructure.
“What many of us did not expect to see and which also shocked us was the scale of infrastructure damage and destruction that has already occurred,” Ging said, referring specifically to electrical and water supplies, and sanitation systems.
Those involved in the conflict “are destroying their own country and it will take a long time to recover and it will be hugely expensive,” he added.
Ging also stressed that “the conflict and the images of conflict may be mischaracterizing the nature of the people in Syria.”
While those involved in the conflict are “bent on the violence and destruction, we seem to really forget the nature of the people: The Syrian people, decent, civilized, generous,” Ging said.
Until recently, Syria hosted the third-largest refugee population in the world, mostly displaced Palestinians, or those escaping violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia.
“That’s the nature of the Syrian people and those same decent people now find themselves helplessly caught up in a conflict that is killing so many, maiming so many, destroying their lives and their livelihoods, and they don’t see any end to this conflict. They don’t see anything on the horizon except more killing and more destruction.”
Ging stressed that the only way forward to end the fighting was to find a political solution.
He appealed to “those who have the political power to bring this conflict to an end and to redouble and realize the urgency that surrounds this. And if they have any doubt about the urgency and the scale of the problem then they should come and see for themselves, and answer to the mothers that we met why we are unable to help them live a peaceful existence in their own country.”
Ging and the other U.N. agency heads who spoke gave details over the level of destruction inside Syria – with 10 percent of people internally displaced, on top of at least 700,000 refugees, tens of thousands of homes destroyed, and a quarter of all schools either damaged or used as shelters.
Despite this, Ted Chaiban, the director of emergencies for UNICEF said, “We also saw how Syrians are resilient, two years into a conflict they continue to persevere and continue to hold families together,” and “at the end, the parties to the conflict all want the same things for their children ... education, milk and medicine.”
As the humanitarian mission last year was only 50 percent funded, and the situation is now deteriorating, it was now essential, Ging said, to attract more donors, to alleviate the levels of “unbearable human suffering.”
Ging said he hoped “a large number of additional donors will mobilize” at a donor conference in Kuwait next week, after current donors informed the U.N. that they had a limited capacity to boost their level of funding.