THERE WILL BE YEARS OF SOUL-SEARCHING to do on the many aspects of our failure in Syria, but humanitarian aid is one area that warrants bold and immediate action. The issue is not so much our inability to address the sheer magnitude of suffering and disruption, which may well be beyond anyone’s capacity to alleviate effectively. Rather, it relates to an unjustifiable paradox: Although aid and development programs have increasingly been driven by a desire to keep Syrians in or around Syria, they have also tended to disempower Syrians who want to stay and help others do so. Indeed, the relationship between international donors and local partners has continuously malfunctioned, despite obvious and attainable avenues for improvement.
Another, related paradox lies in the fact that Syria’s is arguably the best-documented crisis in history, and yet the multibillion dollar humanitarian response has remained hopelessly out of step with realities and priorities on the ground. Despite constant media coverage, abundant material from Syrians in the field, and sophisticated efforts by the aid & development community to track events and generate data, the relief effort has consistently failed to keep pace with the conflict’s escalation and evolution, with international priorities lagging months or even years behind developments in the field.
At the core of both paradoxes is the same challenge of linking a top-heavy international system with complex, fluid dynamics at the grassroots—a space where Syrians display the kind of agency that must be understood and harnessed if aid & development programs are to gain relevance and traction with the concerned.
Illustration credit: hot air ballooning by Pexels / licensed by CC.