Syria donor conference is the first big test of resolve

by Dominic MacSorley, CEO, Concern Worldwide | Concern Worldwide
Thursday, 4 February 2016 11:10 GMT

Syrian refugees receive aid packages at Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/ Muhammad Hamed

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Whatever way we look at it, 2016 will prove the greatest test of our mettle on Syria and of our humanitarian response

The Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London puts the spotlight back on Syria and the neighbouring countries, taking a hard look at the funding required to ensure that those most affected are provided with enough assistance to ensure their survival.

The conference comes not a moment too soon. Concern Worldwide’s new report, ‘Paying the Price: Why donors must take a new approach to the Syria crisis’, highlights the extent of broken funding promises made by donor countries to deal with the devastating impact of the five-year Syrian conflict.

The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the conflict has risen by a staggering 12.5 million in the past three years alone, but international funding for the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan has failed to keep pace, with fulfilled funding for the plan dropping from 68 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2015. 

An Oxfam report also published ahead of this week’s conference showed that some of the main external nations involved in the conflict in Syria provided the least amount of aid to those affected, with France, Saudi Arabia and Russia, only giving 45 percent, 28 percent, and 1 percent of their fair share, respectively. 

On the flipside, other nations have succeeded in providing their fair share of requested funding, notably the UK, which gave 237 percent of requested funding, and Ireland which gave 115 percent. Ultimately, however, the collective response is insufficient.

Yet, behind the numbers and figures are real human beings, the poorest and most vulnerable, who are suffering. The chronic underfinancing of education, for instance, means that much of this generation of Syrian children is slowly losing the promise of its future. 

Added to this, the shortfall in funding support and the fact that most refugees are forbidden to work in the surrounding countries, where most Syrian refugees remain, is forcing them into a cycle of debt, poverty and negative coping mechanisms such as child marriage and child labour. 

The hard reality is that, at this moment, there is no foreseeable end in sight to this conflict, but the London conference gives us the opportunity to focus on those affected by it and what they need and how we can best serve this need.

What they need most now is consistency of funding and consistency of access, because we need to ensure that there is no repeat of the starvation seen in Madaya.

There is an immediate need to commit to far-sighted funding solutions that will not only guarantee that programme funding gaps are filled, but also that economies in the region - Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, in particular – where the vast majority of Syrian refugees remain, are given large-scale support.

It would be naïve to think that these countries can continue to host or begin to absorb such large amounts of refugees without robust economic assistance equivalent to a modern-era Marshall Plan.

Syria has experienced a breathtaking exodus of its population in the last five years but we must also remember that 13.5 million people in need of assistance remain within Syria, and 4.5 million of these are in hard to reach locations.

Increases in funding are no good to them if there are no guaranteed channels through which to distribute resources. 

Whatever way we look at it, 2016 will prove the greatest test of our mettle on Syria and of our humanitarian response to the most immense challenge we have seen since the Second World War. 

The conference in London is perhaps the first big test of this resolve.

Dominic MacSorley, CEO, Concern Worldwide