In Kuwait on March 31, the international community pledged more than $3.3 billion to alleviate suffering brought on by the crisis in Syria. The pledges, which included $508 million from the United States, will help millions of people affected by the crisis this year, but they did not meet the $8.4 billion dollars needed under UN appeals. This gap between needs and resources raises important issues about the most severe crisis of our time. Here are five of them:
Prepare for the long haul. Now more than four years old, the Syrian humanitarian crisis must increasingly compete for donor dollars and political attention against the needs of other, newer conflicts, such as the crisis in Yemen. But Syria must remain at the top of the agenda, and more funding is still urgently needed. With four million refugees and 12.2 million people inside Syria needing assistance, we simply can’t afford to let our attention drift.
Get aid in. For aid workers and medical personnel, Syria has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The Asad regime is largely to blame for this, as it continues to block aid, besiege communities, and expel or attack aid workers. Case in point: In the last four years, the Asad regime is responsible for the vast majority of attacks on hospitals and the unlawful killing of more than 600 medical workers, many of whom were systematically targeted, according to the Physicians for Human Rights. ISIL and other extremist groups have exploited this regime-generated chaos, adding to the onslaught against civilians and aid workers. We must do all we can to get aid to those who need it and to protect humanitarians – not only to save lives, but to prevent others around the world from imitating these tactics.
Address neighboring countries’ development needs. It is not enough to provide conflict victims with water, food, medical care, and shelter. Right now, every fourth resident of Lebanon is a Syrian refugee, which means that all community resources are stretched -- from overcrowded schools to overtaxed electricity grids. And Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and Egypt are also strained. We have to figure out how to shore up the economies and infrastructures of Syria’s neighbors.
Middle Eastern countries beyond Syria’s immediate neighbors must also show leadership. Kuwait deserves enormous credit for hosting the donor conference for the third time and pledging an additional $500 million. Other countries from the region should step up -– not just with funding, but also with greater efforts to find a political solution. No one has a greater interest fostering peace.
Don’t give up on a political solution. Humanitarian aid will not solve the Syria crisis. What is needed is a negotiated political transition that ends Syrians’ suffering and fulfills their aspirations for freedom and dignity. That means Asad and ISIL can have no role in the country’s future. And it means countries have to stop supporting Asad. “By partnering with Asad, these countries make themselves partners in the regime’s atrocities,” U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said in her remarks in Kuwait.
U.S. diplomats are focused on addressing all of these issues as a matter of highest priority. As Ambassador Power said, “The greatest humanitarian crisis in a generation demands the response of a generation.” It’s a call to action we cannot ignore.