Present and Future of Principled Humanitarian Aid in Northwest Syria

In its Ad Hoc report series, iMMAP Inc. highlights the structural issues in Northwest Syria’s humanitarian landscape and possible paths forward.

Rescuers in Idlib, working to extract living survivors from under the rubble. ©Photo by: Ahmad Akacha/Pexels, February 2023. CC0. 

In Syria today, the term “principled humanitarian response” has never been more significant. This response, grounded in the core tenets of neutrality, impartiality, independence, and humanity, becomes especially vital in a complex and politically charged environment. Adhering to these principles isn't just the right thing to do; it's crucial for making sure aid gets to those whose lives are at risk, without any political conditions attached.  

Closely monitoring and reflecting on the response to the seismic catastrophes earlier this year, iMMAP Inc. released a series of two reports titled ‘Post-Earthquake Perspective: Challenges and Strategies for Humanitarian Aid in Northwest Syria.' During the report’s presentation last September, iMMAP Inc. Senior MENA Analyst, Ellen Clarke, underscored how the report leverages the earthquake response as an example to scrutinize the structural limitations of the aid landscape in the northwestern part of the country. 

“The series aims to use the earthquakes in February as an opportunity to examine some of the structural constraints of the aid landscape in Northwest Syria and to advance discussions on how the humanitarian response can be best supported going forward.”Ellen Clarke, iMMAP Inc. Senior MENA Analyst

The first part of the series reveals that international response institutions were impeded in responding to a disaster in an area outside of state control. Legal concerns of Syrian sovereignty prevented member states from answering UN calls for search and rescue teams to be sent to opposition-controlled NWS. Coordination hubs in Turkey were also crippled, due to numerous staffs affected by the earthquake, limiting strategic oversight of the initial response. Amid these challenges, Syrian NGOs showed remarkable resilience. Despite facing financial isolation and logistical hurdles, such as restricted access to affected areas and limitations in resource mobilization, they rapidly adapted to the situation. Leveraging local networks and expertise, these organizations continued to deliver essential services, often filling the gaps where larger international entities were less able to operate effectively.  

Recognizing multidimensional barriers and constraints, the first part of the Ad hoc report sees the earthquakes as a critical juncture to reform humanitarian strategies, urging donor community engagement and cooperation among humanitarian stakeholders in NWS to avoid missing this opportunity for change. It proposes a reassessment of the current humanitarian strategy, advocating for a move away from respecting sovereignty at the expense of International Humanitarian Law principles, while calling for a shift to early recovery strategies, development of alternative funding mechanisms, and a reevaluation of the impact of sanctions on humanitarian operations. 

Rubble of crumbled building in Idlib. © Photo by: Ahmad Akacha Pexels, February 2023. CC0 

Meanwhile, the second report of the series focuses on how a principled humanitarian response can be reprioritized in NWS. It specifically examines the legal and operational challenges confronting NGOs within the backdrop of Syria's protracted crisis. The report further offers insights into the need for long-term resilience-building strategies, the role of Syrian NGOs in shaping these strategies, and the international community's responsibility to support a more sustainable and effective humanitarian response.  

Despite the waning media attention on Syria following the February earthquakes, according to the report, humanitarian organizations continue their steadfast efforts to address the crisis, while underscoring the international community's duty to support these on-the-ground actors. A strategic reassessment of humanitarian responses is needed, while emphasizing the importance of transitioning from immediate relief to enhancing the resilience and self-sufficiency of local humanitarian initiatives in Northwest Syria.  

For a comprehensive insight of these urgent challenges and to access actionable recommendations, you can download the full reports from the Syria program page on the iMMAP Inc. website.

A graffiti saying “In God, we trust” written outside of Barakat Bakery in Aleppo, Syria. Picture taken in February 2023, courtesy of Syria Relief.

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