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)
Short Url
Updated 26 May 2024
Follow

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.”


German FM to travel to Middle East next week

Updated 6 sec ago
Follow

German FM to travel to Middle East next week

German FM to travel to Middle East next week
On Tuesday, she will hold talks with Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa in Ramallah
Baerbock will travel to Lebanon for talks with officials in Beirut, including the migration minister

BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit the Middle East next week, Berlin said Friday, as the Gaza war grinds on and fears grow of a wider regional conflict.
Baerbock will travel to Israel Monday immediately after a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.
On arrival in Israel, Baerbock — who has visited the region several times since the start of the Israel-Hamas war — will give a speech at the Herzliya Security Conference.
On Tuesday, she will hold talks with Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Mustafa in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
Baerbock will also meet with the Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz in Jerusalem.
Subsequently, Baerbock will travel to Lebanon for talks with officials in Beirut, including the migration minister.
Baerbock’s discussions with officials would focus on “the war in Gaza and the continuing catastrophic humanitarian situation,” as well as “the question of what a future could look like that allows Israelis and Palestinians to live together in safety,” the ministry spokeswoman said.
“In the Palestinian territories, the situation in the West Bank will also be a focus, as will the reform efforts of the Palestinian Authority,” the spokeswoman said.
“The particularly tense and dangerous situation on the border between Israel and Lebanon,” would also be discussed on the trip.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian territory and repeated UN warnings of famine.
The October Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.


German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit the Middle East next week, Berlin said Friday, as the Gaza war grinds on and fears grow of a wider regional conflict. (AFP/File)

Darfur sees an increase in much needed food aid, but it’s still not enough to avert famine, UN says

Darfur sees an increase in much needed food aid, but it’s still not enough to avert famine, UN says
Updated 29 min 29 sec ago
Follow

Darfur sees an increase in much needed food aid, but it’s still not enough to avert famine, UN says

Darfur sees an increase in much needed food aid, but it’s still not enough to avert famine, UN says
  • WFP said in an update that five convoys carrying 5,000 tons of food aid have crossed from neighboring Chad into Darfur since the beginning of 2024
  • Famine looms in parts of Sudan, which has been engulfed by violence since April of last year

CAIRO: Families in Sudan’s embattled western Darfur region have finally received an emergency increase in food aid that is much needed to help avert looming famine, the UN food agency said Thursday.
The World Food Program said in an update that five convoys carrying 5,000 tons of food aid have crossed from neighboring Chad into Darfur since the beginning of 2024.
Some aid trucks entered the region on June 10 and completed deliveries in southern Darfur on Thursday, Leni Kinzli, the head of communications at WFP’s Sudan office, told The Associated Press. Distribution was continuing in central and western Darfur.
“The food distribution is an emergency scale-up to avert famine and to get to those people in the highest level of food insecurity to prevent widespread starvation,” Kinzli said. “But, we need to continue to do more and expand access and we’re working on possibly opening new corridors from South Sudan and Egypt and also expanding crossline access from Port Sudan into the Darfur region.”
Famine looms in parts of Sudan, which has been engulfed by violence since April of last year. That’s when tensions between leaders of the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted into intense fighting and spread across the country, including to Darfur.
The latest WFP distribution was part of two aid convoys that made their way to Sudan over the past weeks, carrying enough assistance for more than 245,000 people. The first convoy crossed on May 23 and delivered aid for 117,000 people in South and Central Darfur states.
“We aren’t just delivering for immediate needs but ensuring people have enough to get through the coming months,” said Kinzli. “Especially in those areas that we anticipate will become harder to reach when the road conditions further deteriorate in the rains in the coming weeks.”
In May, the WFP said in a report that at least 1.7 million people are already experiencing emergency levels of hunger in Darfur, including in Al Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state that is besieged by RSF.
Some of the challenges in reaching communities in Darfur include securing access through negotiations, which Kinzli described as “complicated” because many of the checkpoints are controlled by different armed groups. She added that getting aid into places with intense fighting such as Al Fasher is extremely dangerous.
Some WFP aid trucks encountered mechanical issues in the most recent food aid delivery because of deteriorating road conditions. Still, three more WFP convoys carrying food and nutritious commodities are planned to enter Darfur in the coming weeks from Chad through the Tine crossing to help 675,000 people.
Carlos Perea-Milla, with the logistics team for Sudan at the international humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger, told the AP that Tine, which leads to North Darfur state, is the only authorized crossing point for UN agencies. The Adre crossing point, occasionally used by humanitarian organizations, provides access to RSF-controlled areas. The UN’s humanitarian agency is pushing for Adre to be used as the other official crossing point to Sudan.


One dead in Tunisia military helicopter crash: ministry

One dead in Tunisia military helicopter crash: ministry
Updated 48 min 55 sec ago
Follow

One dead in Tunisia military helicopter crash: ministry

One dead in Tunisia military helicopter crash: ministry
  • The ministry did not specify the type of helicopter involved

TUNIS: A Tunisian military helicopter crashed Friday during exercises in Gafsa province, killing one crewman and injuring another, the defense ministry said.
“The accident occurred during a normal maneuver and the aircraft’s descent,” ministry spokesman Mohamed Zekri told AFP.
“The helicopter crew, which consisted of two personnel, was taken to the military hospital in Gafsa. One of them died and the other was in stable condition.”
The ministry did not specify the type of helicopter involved.
The Tunisian military has lost several aircraft on training or reconnaissance missions in recent years.
In June 2023, four personnel died when a helicopter crashed off the country’s northwest coast.
In October 2021, three were killed in another accident during a night exercise in the southern province of Gabes.


Iranians split on presidential vote as hardships mount

Iranians split on presidential vote as hardships mount
Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

Iranians split on presidential vote as hardships mount

Iranians split on presidential vote as hardships mount
  • The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women

TEHRAN: With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.
Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.
“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.
“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.
Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.
The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.
“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.
“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.


Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.
“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.
But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.
“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”
Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.
Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.
Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.
“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.
“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”
In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.
Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”
This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s adversary Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.
Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.
Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.
Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.
“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.
“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”


Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry
Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry

Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, says Armenian Foreign Ministry
  • A series of countries have recognized Palestine amid Israel's ongoing war in Gaza
  • Israel is a major arms supplier to Armenia's long-time arch-foe neighbor Azerbaijan

YEREVAN: Armenia announced Friday its recognition of the State of Palestine, the latest country to do so during the war in Gaza, saying it was against “violence toward civilian populations.”
A series of countries have recognized the State of Palestine amid the war between Israel and Hamas, drawing strong rebukes from Israeli officials.
“Confirming its commitment to international law, equality of nations, sovereignty and peaceful coexistence, the Republic of Armenia recognizes the State of Palestine,” Yerevan said.
Armenia added that it is “genuinely interested in establishing long-term peace and stability in the Middle-East.”
Yerevan, which has itself been ridden by conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan for decades, slammed Israel’s military conduct in Gaza.
“Armenia deplores using civilian infrastructure as shields during armed conflicts and violence toward civilian populations,” the ministry said.
It also deplored Hamas for “the captivity of civilian persons” and said it “joins the demands of international community on freeing them.”
A senior official from the Palestinian Authority, Hussein Al-Sheikh, welcomed the move.
“This is a victory for right, justice, legitimacy and the struggle of our Palestinian people for liberation and independence,” Al-Sheikh said on social media.
“Thank you our friend Armenia.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
Israel is a major arms supplier to Armenia’s arch-foe neighbor Azerbaijan, with which Yerevan had been locked in a decades-long territorial dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region that Baku recaptured last year from Armenian separatists.