With the Syrian uprising and civil war approaching its second year, Turtle Bay decided to have a look at some of the underlying U.N. numbers -- some familiar and some more obscure -- that tell the toll of the country's suffering.
As United States and other wealthy governments converged on Kuwait for an international donor conference on Syria, Valerie Amos, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, said the reality of the situation is potentially worse than we know, especially in the face of a bitterly cold winter. U.N. officials say it's hard to quantify the suffering, particularly given the Syrian government's refusal to let U.N. relief workers deliver assistance to rebel-controlled areas from neighboring Turkey. But Amos and other U.N. officials have detailed some of the lesser-known facts and figures to give a sense of the impact the crisis is having on ordinary Syrians, and the costs of not responding.
The scale of the suffering has generated calls from the United Nations for a massive humanitarian response, including appeals for $519 million in assistance for distressed Syrians inside their own country, and another $1 billion for Syrian refugees that have fled the country's violence.
In recent days, the U.N. and international advocacy groups cited figures suggesting that the international community has been unwilling to pay the price for responding to the need. A coalition of non-governmental organizations singled out six countries -- Brazil, Japan, China, South Korea, Russia, and Mexico -- that together account for a quarter of the world's GDP, but which have provided little or no funding. "Donors have not stepped up to their responsibilities in this past period," said John Ging, the U.N. humanitarian relief agencies director of operations.
But U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Kuwait today that the U.N. surpassed its target with more than $1.5 billion in pledges, easily meeting its funding appeals. The key donors include:
But government pledges at donor conferences don't always result in money spent.
U.N. officials said that the Kuwait conference was a promising start. "Money has been pledged, but that is just the start," Amos said after the conference. "We now have to do all we can to turn that into action on the ground -- but the environment in which we work is extremely challenging."
Indeed, it is. On Tuesday, the French aid agency, Medecins Sans Frontiers, protested that international assistance was primarily being delivered to civilians in government-controlled areas.
Ging challenged that assessment, saying that at least 48 percent of international assistance was being delivered by the Syrian Red Crescent and a handful of other international relief organizations to opposition areas.
But he acknowledged that the U.N. has gained little access to rebel-controlled territory in the north, primarily as a result of the Syrian government's refusal to permit them access through the Turkish border. Ging said the U.N. was relying on the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to verify whether money channeled through the Syrian Red Crescent is going to those in need, regardless of political affiliation.
But he said the U.N. is also not naïve about the risks of assistance being diverted to pro-government communities and that the organization is working to expand the presence of international relief agencies in Syria.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.