Overshadowed by Ukraine’s war, Syria’s tragedy remains greatest humanitarian crisis

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

Our world is beset by unthinkable tragedy; brash military aggression, widening instability and grinding humanitarian suffering.

We know the places ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, yet governments and relief agencies face overwhelming crisis fatigue as we lurch from Kabul to Kyiv in less than six months.  Cause, effect, crisis seems a recurring political mantra.

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has rightfully captured the headlines, Syria’s unending hell has endured for over eleven years.  Syria’s crisis which began during the so-called Arab Spring during 2011, has exploded into a civil war of unimaginable violence and still widening humanitarian calamity.

But now Syria’s plight has entered the shadows.

The daily suffering of Syrians is worse now than it has been at nearly any point throughout the decade-long conflict that has ravaged the country, humanitarian aid groups say.

Addressing the UN Security Council Geir Pederson warned, “My message today is simple: focus on Syria, the current strategic stalemate on the ground and Syria’s absence from the headlines should not mislead anyone into thinking that the conflict needs less attention.”

Indeed, Syria remains among the greatest humanitarian crises of this era and current suffering is at its highest level since the war began 11 years ago.

Geir Pederson, a seasoned Norwegian diplomat serving as UN Envoy for Syria stated, “While the displacement caused by the war in Ukraine is tragically catching up, Syria remains the biggest displacement crisis in the world, with 6.8 million refugees and 6.2 million internally displaced persons, half the pre-war population.”

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) puts the matter into stark detail for the period 2022-2023.  In an appeal covering the vast humanitarian challenges facing Syrians from physical insecurity to housing, health and education the report calls for $4.4 billion in aid.  Thus far $361 million has been delivered, that’s less than ten percent!  Primary donors thus far are Germany ($190 million), USA ($60 million) and the Netherlands ($15 million).

“Syria today is one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child,” remarked UNICEF’s Director Catherine Russell, adding, “An entire generation is struggling to survive… Nearly 90 percent of people in Syria live in poverty.”

Later at a humanitarian pledging conference in Brussels, U.S. UN Ambassador Linda Thomas- Greenfield stated, “I’m proud to announce that the United States will provide over $800 million in new humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.”

She stated poignantly, “The United States remains the world’s largest humanitarian donor to the Syrian people. We need others to step up and join us… After all, today, the humanitarian needs in Syria are greater than at any point since the conflict began.”

Beyond the physical destruction Syria has suffered in the grinding battle between the ruling Assad regime and various factions of insurgent opposition movements, many of them Islamic Jihadi terrorists, this Middle Eastern country has seen massive refugee flows to neighboring Turkey and further afield to Germany and Sweden.

A teetering Assad regime was stabilized by Russian military intervention in September 2015.

Vladimir Putin primarily used air strikes against Syrian militants as a “testing laboratory,” in this former Soviet client state.  While Moscow has now withdrawn many military units, bases are being turned over to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard units who equally support Assad’s rule. The Russian military has recruited Syrian militia units to serve as mercenaries in Ukraine!

A witches’ brew of regime-backed military units and Islamist militant forces oppose each other.

The long sought political solution to Syria’s conflict remains as elusive as ever.  As with the Ukrainians fleeing their homeland, most Syrians wish to return home, but to what present and which future?  Reconstruction aid for rebuilding the ravished country remains contingent on a workable political settlement. Thus, securing a workable and lasting ceasefire would be a serious first step.

“Syria remains a highly internationalized crisis,” asserted Geir Pederson at the Brussels meeting.

Yet as he warns, “The current strategic stalemate on the ground and Syria’s absence from the headlines should not mislead anyone into thinking that the conflict needs less attention or fewer resources.”

This carnage has continued for too long.  Solve Syria’s crisis now!

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]