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Why no Syria appeal from UK's Disasters Emergency Committee?

by Katie Nguyen | Katie_Nguyen1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 25 February 2013 17:01 GMT

Four million Syrians were in need of aid late last year

By Katie Nguyen

LONDON (AlertNet) – The number of Syrians in need of aid may be growing by the day, but a coalition of UK charities that raises funds for crises has yet to ask the British public for money, because it is worried they won't donate.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an alliance of 14 leading British aid agencies, has had "increasingly intense" discussions about a Syria appeal with members and key broadcasters since the start of the year, a DEC spokesman said.

The main issue is whether there are "reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal would be successful" - the last of three criteria for issuing a DEC appeal.

One concern is that media coverage of the two-year conflict is not as prominent as before, DEC spokesman Brendan Paddy said, adding that when Syria did make the headlines, the focus was less on humanitarian needs and more on fighting and politics.

He said another problem was the difficulty in reaching the worst-affected people.

"It would be amazing to be able to show people the conditions of the displaced people inside Syria, but actually for both operational and security reasons it's really difficult," Paddy told AlertNet.

"For those reasons, we are still having a discussion, particularly with partners but we're also talking to members about ... how we tell that story and how confident we can be that we will see a high level of public support for any appeal."

The DEC appeal is the only one if its kind in Britain, and the last one – for East Africa’s hunger crisis in 2011 – raised 71 million pounds ($107 million).

In Syria, four million people were in need of aid late last year, and the situation has since deteriorated because of shelling, inflation and shortages of food and medicine, the most senior U.N. humanitarian official Valerie Amos said last week.

Some 70,000 people have been killed in the nearly two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which has also made refugees of 860,000 Syrians, according to the United Nations.

The head of the British Red Cross spoke last week of the urgent need to scale up the humanitarian response in Syria where aid is getting through to only 35-40 percent of the people that need it. The charity is one of 10 DEC member agencies which has launched its own separate appeal for Syria.

Several aid officials contacted by AlertNet said the sticking point to a joint DEC Syria appeal appeared to be reservations UK broadcasters had about one, especially the BBC.

When the DEC launches an appeal, it enlists the help of the BBC and another broadcaster, ITN, to produce an appeal package which is presented by a celebrity and aired in a prime-time slot. There are also radio appeals and the public can also make donations at high street banks and post offices.

DEC's Paddy declined to comment on the position of the BBC, which was criticised in 2009 for refusing to broadcast a DEC appeal for the survivors of Israel's offensive in Gaza.

At the time the BBC and Sky, another UK-based broadcaster, said they did not want to be seen to favour either side of the conflict.

Contacted by AlertNet, a BBC spokesperson said: "At this time the BBC has not received an official request to run a DEC appeal for Syria. However, we remain in regular dialogue with the DEC and are keeping the situation in Syria under daily review."

For several DEC members, including Oxfam and Islamic Relief, a joint appeal for Syria cannot come soon enough.

"We are convinced of the severity of the needs," said Islamic Relief spokesman Martin Cottingham.

"We've visited Syrian refugee camps inside the country relatively recently, within the last couple of weeks. We have provided information from that to the DEC to try to help put the case for an appeal."

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FACTBOX-The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC)

Which DEC members have their own Syria appeals?

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