Middle East

Oxfam seeks greater reach in Syria

A Syrian refugee drinks from a water tank in the Taybeh makeshift refugee camp outside Baalbek in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, January 18, 2013. (Michael Goldfarb/MSF)

BEIRUT: Global aid agency Oxfam wants to double to 3 million the number of people it can reach inside Syria with water and hygiene projects, the head of Oxfam’s British office said after meetings with officials in Damascus.

Oxfam has been working with Syria’s Water Resources Ministry for the past 18 months by drilling wells, repairing old and damaged water networks and trucking water.

“What I saw in Syria is that we need to scale up Oxfam’s response as well as an international community response,” Oxfam GB’s Chief Executive Mark Goldring told Reuters late Tuesday in Beirut after a visit over the border to Damascus.

“We’re committed to do that, we’ve been led to believe that we will get permission ... so we would expect our program to grow very substantially from benefiting 1.5 million to benefiting let’s say 3 million people, in a year’s time.”

It is estimated that only half of all Syrians now have access to tap water compared to well over 90 percent before the crisis, Goldring said.

Oxfam has projects in Damascus and its surroundings, Homs, Aleppo and Idlib. The government determines where it can work in a country divided between the military, allied militia and various insurgent groups. Despite this, Oxfam says its work is able to reach people outside of government-held areas.

“Oxfam does not have cross conflict line access, water does, and to the extent that those mains are operating, we have been supplying,” Goldring said. “As a humanitarian right, we will do all we can to supply water wherever we can get it.”

Working in Syria on water access is unusual for Oxfam, which is more used to states with a weaker infrastructure, he said. It was not present in Syria before November 2013.

“The relationship with the Water Resources Ministry has been a learning experience on both sides. It’s not normally the way that Oxfam works,” he said. “Nobody we talked to gave us a sense of great hope, whether that was from the international community or from the government,” he said. “So we need to keep calling for a cease-fire, a political solution.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 18, 2015, on page 8.

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