The Syrian crisis: The importance of effective humanitarian coordination

Syria, in its seventh year of civil war, is to this date the largest XXI century humanitarian crisis with Syrians representing the world’s biggest refugee population in the world whether internally-displaced or outside Syrian borders[1].

Numerous restrictions, imposed either by the government or armed groups, have continuously limited the access to the Syrian territory to international organizations, thus worsening the humanitarian crisis and the need for an effective humanitarian action in Syria. Local Syrian organizations have tried to fill this gap left by international humanitarian organizations, by using their own networks and connections to provide protection and assistance to populations in need. But their action is being greatly limited and weakened by the difficulty of accessing funds.

Despite the long duration of the conflict, the question of the way humanitarian action has to be conduced is still in debate and is far from be resolved. It is therefore crucial to try to find a satisfactory answer in order to be able to to take all possible measures to provide sufficient humanitarian aid in view of the gravity of the situation.

Humanitarian coordination seeks to bring together different humanitarian actors, in order to ensure a coherent and structured intervention to face emergencies. It aims to improve the efficiency of an intervention by ensuring greater predictability, accountability and partnership to assist people when they most need relief or protection. Coordination is built around assessing situations and needs, agreeing common priorities; developing common strategies to address issues such as negotiating access, mobilizing funding and other resources ; clarifying consistent public messaging and monitoring progress[2]. The current situation in Syria makes humanitarian coordination as difficult as it is necessary.

The difficulties which hamper a good organization of humanitarian cooperation are numerous and complex, but identifying the main ones is useful.

One of the obstacles to cooperation is the lack of trust between components of the humanitarian system, due to the frustration at the lack of political solutions among humanitarian agencies and the phenomenon of politicization of aid. Adversarial types of relationship are indeed developing with completely parallel systems, challenging any attempts to cooperate.

Most international organizations are often unable or unwilling to support local organizations, because many of the latter do not have formal structures and cannot thereby sign formal agreements neither issue receipts required by International NGO and donors. Moreover, counter-terrorism legislations and sanctions prevent INGOs to transfer funds and open banks accounts, but also contribute to reduce the scope for intervention in certain areas.

International NGOs therefore experience difficulties in accessing the field, understanding the specificities of the Syrian context and supporting local organizations who desperately need the support and who feel forsaken by the international community. This why it is essential to implement appropriate long-term and flexible funding as well as provide appropriate training for local Syrian organizations to enable them to continue, strengthen and professionalize their work[3].

Humanitarian organizations need to refocus their narrative on the Syrian population afflicted by the conflict. The greatest challenge is the creation of genuine partnerships enabling local and international organizations to complement each other, and to work more efficiently in total transparency. If not the easiest step, it is the first step of the challenge, in order to organize a true humanitarian coordination for a coherent and structured intervention in Syria.

Author: Amyna Mehrez

Amyna is a Programs Intern at Trust and is currently studying for a Masters in International Security at the Paris Institute of Political Studies



[1]  UNHCR 23/08/17

[2] Humanitarian Response 23/08/17

[3] Wilton Park Report – Syria: engaging with local actors to increase humanitarian outreach – March 2015

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