Ahead of another donor conference for Syria, humanitarian workers fear more aid cuts

Ahead of another donor conference for Syria, humanitarian workers fear more aid cuts
Aid organizations are making their annual pitches to donors ahead of a fundraising conference in Brussels for Syria on Monday, May 27. (AP)
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Updated 26 May 2024
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Ahead of another donor conference for Syria, humanitarian workers fear more aid cuts

Ahead of another donor conference for Syria, humanitarian workers fear more aid cuts
  • Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been pulled into poverty, and struggle with accessing food and health care as the economy deteriorates across the country’s front lines
  • id organizations are making their annual pitches to donors ahead of a fundraising conference in Brussels for Syria on Monday

BEIRUT: Living in a tent in rebel-held northwestern Syria, Rudaina Al-Salim and her family struggle to find enough water for drinking and other basic needs such as cooking and washing. Their encampment north of the city of Idlib hasn’t seen any aid in six months.
“We used to get food aid, hygiene items,” said the mother of four. “Now we haven’t had much in a while.”
Al-Salim’s story is similar to that of many in this region of Syria, where most of the 5.1 million people have been internally displaced — sometimes more than once — in the country’s civil war, now in its 14th year, and rely on aid to survive.
UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations have for years struggled with shrinking budgets, further worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and conflicts elsewhere. The wars in Ukraine and Sudan, and more recently Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip are the focus of the world’s attention.
Syria’s war, which has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of of 23 million, has long remained largely frozen and so are also efforts to find a viable political solution to end it. Meanwhile, millions of Syrians have been pulled into poverty, and struggle with accessing food and health care as the economy deteriorates across the country’s front lines.
Along with the deepening poverty, there is growing hostility in neighboring countries that host Syrian refugees and that struggle with crises of their own.
Aid organizations are now making their annual pitches to donors ahead of a fundraising conference in Brussels for Syria on Monday. But humanitarian workers believe that pledges will likely fall short and that further aid cuts would follow.
“We have moved from assisting 5.5 million a year to about 1.5 million people in Syria,” Carl Skau, the UN World Food Program’s deputy executive director, told The Associated Press. He spoke during a recent visit to Lebanon, which hosts almost 780,000 registered Syrian refugees — and hundreds of thousands of others who are undocumented.
“When I look across the world, this is the (aid) program that has shrunk the most in the shortest period for time,” Skau said.
Just 6 percent of the United Nations’ appeal for aid to Syria in 2024 has so far been secured ahead of Monday’s annual fundraising conference organized by the European Union, said David Carden, UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria.
For the northwestern region of Syria, that means the UN is only able to feed 600,000 out of the 3.6 million people facing food insecurity, meaning they lack access to sufficient food. The UN says some 12.9 million Syrians are food insecure across the country.
The UN hopes the Brussels conference can raise more than $4 billion in “lifesaving aid” to support almost two-thirds of the 16.7 million Syrians in need, both within the war-torn country and in neighboring countries, particularly Turkiye, Lebanon and Jordan.
At last year’s conference, donors pledged $10.3 billion — about $6 billion in grants and the rest in loans — just months after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkiye and much of northern Syria, killing over 59,000 people, including 6,000 in Syria.
For northwestern Syria, an enclave under rebel control, aid “is literally a matter of life and death” this year, Carden told the AP during a recent visit to Idlib province. Without funding, 160 health facilities there would close by end of June, he said.
The International Rescue Committee’s head for Syria, Tanya Evans, said needs are “at their highest ever,” with increasing numbers of Syrians turning to child labor and taking on debt to pay for food and basics.
In Lebanon, where nearly 90 percent of Syrian refugees live in poverty, they also face flagging aid and increasing resentment from the Lebanese, struggling with their own country’s economic crisis since 2019. Disgruntled officials have accused the refugees of surging crime and competition in the job market.
Lebanon’s bickering political parties have united in a call for a crackdown on undocumented Syrian migrants and demand refugees return to so-called “safe zones” in Syria.
UN agencies, human rights groups and Western governments say there are no such areas.
Um Omar, a Syrian refugee from Homs, works in a grocery store in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli — an impoverished community that once warmly welcomed Syrian refugees.
For her work, she gets to bring home every day a bundle of bread and some vegetables to feed her family of five. They live rent-free in a tent on a plot of land that belongs to the grocery store’s owners.
“I have to leave the kids early in the morning without breakfast so I can work,” she said, asking to be identified only by her nickname, Arabic for “Omar’s mother.” She fears reprisals because of heightened hostilities against Syrians.
The shrinking UN aid they receive does not pay the bills. Her husband, who shares her fears for their safety, used to work as a day laborer but has rarely left their home in weeks.
She says deportation to Syria, where President Bashar Assad’s government is firmly entrenched, would spell doom for her family.
“If my husband was returned to Syria, he’ll either go to jail or (face) forced conscription,” she explains.
Still, many in Lebanon tell her family, “you took our livelihoods,” Um Omar said. There are also those who tell them they should leave, she added, so that the Lebanese “will finally catch a break.”


US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks

US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks
Updated 21 June 2024
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US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks

US’s Gaza aid pier effort hit by repeated setbacks
  • The UN has said it welcomes all efforts to bring in aid, but that land routes are the most important routes for the arrival of assistance

WASHINGTON: The controversial US effort to boost Gaza aid deliveries by building a temporary pier has faced repeated problems, with bad weather damaging the structure and causing other interruptions to the arrival of desperately needed assistance.
More than 4,100 metric tons (nine million pounds) of aid has been delivered via the $230 million pier project so far, but it has only been operational for limited periods, falling short of President Joe Biden’s pledge that it would enable a “massive increase” in assistance reaching Gaza “every day.”
The coastal territory has been devastated by more than eight months of Israeli operations against Palestinian militant group Hamas, uprooting Gaza’s population and leaving them in dire need of aid.
“The Gaza pier regretfully amounted to an extremely expensive distraction from what is truly needed, and what is also legally required,” said Michelle Strucke, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Humanitarian Agenda.
That is “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access for humanitarian organizations to provide aid for a population in Gaza that is suffering historic levels of deprivation,” she said.
US forces have also dropped aid by air, but that plus deliveries via the pier “were never meant to substitute for scaled, sustainable access to land crossings that provided safe access by humanitarian workers to provide aid,” Strucke said.
“Pursuing them took away decision makers’ time, energy, and more than $200 million US taxpayer dollars.”
Biden announced during his State of the Union address in March that the US military would establish the pier and American troops began constructing it the following month, initially working offshore.
But in a sign of issues to come, high seas and winds required construction to be relocated to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The pier was completed in early May, but weather conditions meant it was unsafe to immediately move it into place, and it was not attached to the Gaza coast until the middle of the month.
High seas caused four US Army vessels supporting the mission to break free of their moorings on May 25, beaching two of them, and the pier was damaged by bad weather three days later, requiring sections to be repaired and rebuilt at Ashdod.
It was reattached to the coast on June 7, but aid deliveries were soon paused for two days due to bad weather conditions.
The pier then had to be removed from the shore and moved to Ashdod on June 14 to protect it from high seas. It was returned to Gaza this week and aid deliveries have now resumed.
Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation research group, said the “pier effort has yet to produce the results that the Biden administration hoped.”
“Aside from the weather issues, it’s been quite expensive and has not fixed the operational challenges of getting aid into Gaza,” he said.
Cohen said that despite the issues with the pier, it does provide another entry point for aid and allows assistance to be brought in even when land crossings are closed — a persistent problem that has worsened the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
And he said the effort may also help improve future deployments of the military’s temporary pier capability, which was last used operationally more than a decade ago in Haiti.
In addition to weather, the project is facing a major challenge in terms of the distribution of aid that arrives via the pier, which the UN World Food Programme decided to halt while it assesses the security situation — an evaluation that is still ongoing.
That announcement came after Israel conducted a nearby operation earlier this month that freed four hostages but which health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza said killed more than 270 people.
The UN has said it welcomes all efforts to bring in aid, but that land routes are the most important routes for the arrival of assistance.
Strucke emphasized that “what Gazans need is not the appearance of aid — they need actual aid to reach them.”
Washington “should be very careful not to support actions that may look good on paper to increase routes to provide assistance, but do not result in aid actually reaching Palestinians in need at scale,” she said.


US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea

US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea
Updated 21 June 2024
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US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea

US destroys six Houthi drones in Red Sea
  • The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises

WASHINGTON: The US military said Thursday that it had destroyed four Houthi nautical drones and two aerial ones over the Red Sea off Yemen.
The Iran-backed Houthis have launched scores of drones and missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November, describing the attacks as being in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The United States and its allies, particularly Britain, have responded with an increased naval presence to defend shipping in the vital waterway and with retaliatory strikes on Houthi targets.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement Thursday night that its forces had “destroyed four Iranian-backed Houthi uncrewed surface vessels (USV) in the Red Sea and two uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) over the Red Sea” in the past 24 hours.
CENTCOM said the day before that it had destroyed “one ground control station and one command and control node” in a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen.
This week, a merchant ship whose hull was breached in an earlier Houthi attack, the M/V Tutor, was believed to have sunk in the Red Sea after its crew was evacuated, according to a maritime security agency run by the British navy.
A Filipino sailor aboard the vessel was killed in the attack.
A Sri Lankan crew member on another ship, the M/V Verbena, was seriously injured in a separate attack, and the vessel had to be abandoned.
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller condemned those attacks in a statement and said Washington would “continue to take necessary action to protect freedom of navigation and commercial shipping.”
He also called on the Houthis “to release all detainees, including the United Nations, diplomatic, and non-governmental organization staff they detained earlier this month.”
The Houthis earlier this month arrested a number of people they claimed were part of a US-Israeli spy network, adding that those held worked under “the cover of international organizations and UN agencies.”
The heads of six United Nations agencies and three international NGOs subsequently issued a joint call for the release of their staff, with UN rights chief Volker Turk dismissing the spying accusations as “outrageous.”
The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. More than half of the population is dependent on aid in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.


Blinken tells Israeli officials of need to avoid further escalation with Lebanon

Blinken tells Israeli officials of need to avoid further escalation with Lebanon
Updated 21 June 2024
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Blinken tells Israeli officials of need to avoid further escalation with Lebanon

Blinken tells Israeli officials of need to avoid further escalation with Lebanon

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli officials during a meeting on Thursday of the need to avoid further escalation in Lebanon amid the war in Gaza, the State Department said.
Blinken was meeting Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs.


Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote

Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote
Updated 21 June 2024
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Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote

Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote
  • Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard

TEHRAN, Iran: In the second live debate on state television, six presidential candidates on Thursday discussed Iran’s economic problems ahead of the country’s June 28 election following a helicopter crash last month that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and seven others.
It was the second of five debates planned in the days before the vote in a shortened campaign to replace Raisi, a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once floated as a possible successor to the 85-year-old cleric.
Like the first debate, the second one also related to economics with the candidates discussing their proposals for Iran’s spiraling economy which is struggling under sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western nations.
The candidates also discussed inflation, the budget deficit, fuel consumption subsidies and education. They all promised to try to get the sanctions lifted and to introduce reforms, but none offered concrete details.
“Negotiation is a method of struggle,” said prominent candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, 62, with regards to getting the Western sanctions on Iran lifted. Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
He emphasized the destructiveness of the sanctions on the economy and said that Iranians have a right to a good life, not just an ordinary life.
Iran’s vice president, Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, 53, said he will continue Raisi’s unfinished administration and vowed to develop the tourism industry.
Regarding the health sector and the emigration of doctors and nurses abroad, Qalibaf said there should be a fundamental change in the way health workers are paid to increase the motivation to stay.
Many doctors and nurses reportedly have left Iran in recent years over its deepening economic woes and poor working conditions. Qalibaf’s call for more pay for health workers was repeated by the other candidates.
All the candidates said they believe the Education Ministry is the most important part of the government because “the next generation of the country is raised in this ministry.” Qalibaf said the ministry’s budget must be increased.
The one pro-reform candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian, who is backed by pro-reform figures such as former President Mohammad Khatami and former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, thinks the economic crisis can be resolved by solving party differences inside the country as well as external factors.
The June 28 election comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program, its arming of Russia in that country’s war on Ukraine and its wide-reaching crackdowns on dissent.
Iran’s support of militia proxy forces throughout the wider Middle East, meanwhile, has been increasingly in the spotlight as Iran-backed Yemen’s Houthi rebels attack ships in the Red Sea over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

 


South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks

South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks
Updated 21 June 2024
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South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks

South Sudan’s vice president expresses concern over ongoing peace talks
  • The former rebel leader signed an agreement with President Salva Kiir in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war that killed about 400,000 people

JUBA, South Sudan: South Sudan ‘s vice president said Thursday that peace talks in neighboring Kenya have failed to acknowledge the country’s peace agreement established in 2018, alleging a new draft agreement is aimed at replacing the original peace deal.
Riek Machar in a protest letter to the talks’ mediator said the draft established alternative institutions to replace or run in parallel with those established by the previous peace agreement. He added that the current peace talks should complement and not obliterate the original deal.
The former rebel leader signed an agreement with President Salva Kiir in 2018 that ended a five-year civil war that killed about 400,000 people. Machar and Kiir were on opposite sides in the war and Machar was appointed vice president after the 2018 deal. His group isn’t part of the current talks, which are for groups that were not included in the 2018 agreement.
Despite the peace deal, violence in South Sudan has continued, most of it attributed to rebel groups and warring ethnic groups.
The body mandated with monitoring the implementation of the 2018 peace deal raised concerns in May over the slow implementation of election related tasks with only a few months left until December elections.
Opposition groups that were not part of the 2018 peace agreement have been in talks in Kenya since May 9 aimed at bringing groups on board ahead of the December elections.
The talks have resulted in a draft agreement that recommends an extension of the transitional period to provide more time for election preparations.
President Kiir on Thursday received a progress report from government representatives in the ongoing talks with the government spokesperson telling media that participants in the talks are close to reaching a final agreement.