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Thursday 17 December 2015

The Humanitarian Impact of Russia’s Intervention

By Kellie Strom

The same day as the House of Commons debated airstrikes, elsewhere in Westminster the APPG for Syria was hosting a briefing by GOAL, an Irish NGO working inside northern Syria. The briefing was led by CEO Barry Andrews.

GOAL’s programme began in 2012, and is now reaching over a million people in rebel–held or contested areas. They distribute food to nearly 500,000 people. They supply flour to over 50 bakeries providing bread at stabilised prices to nearly one million people.

GOAL also supports water and hygiene services for over half a million people. In 2016 they plan expanding water systems and rural sanitation.

On livelihoods, GOAL supports farming families with pesticides, and plans on supporting related businesses and market systems, and developing small business groups accessible to women.
When GOAL first set up projects inside Syria, it was in the expectation that the war would end more quickly, and that the effort would support post–war transition and reconstruction. As things are, their work has helped temper the flow of refugees, making it possible for many to stay inside Syria. Their North Syria Response Fund is reaching over 200,000 internally displaced people, many from Aleppo and Homs.

Now the violence of Russia’s intervention has thrown the future of all this in doubt.

Russia is seen as carrying on Assad’s work, choosing to hit non-ISIS forces and infrastructure. There are fewer of Assad’s barrel bombs now, but the Russian weapons have far greater intensity. Buildings are gone in a single strike. They are targeting areas that were previously relatively safe, targeting border areas, hitting humanitarian convoys as well as commercial traffic.

People who before were prepared to stay now lack confidence that it is tenable, and there is a danger that pressure on Aleppo and Homs could displace as many as a million more.

While they see some grounds for hope in negotiations, GOAL are concerned not just by the bombing of civilians, but also at the bombing of FSA forces “holding the line against ISIS.”

While some have questioned the existence of moderate Syrian forces to fight ISIS, GOAL’s experience is that where there is extremism it’s amongst foreign fighters, whereas Syrian fighters are nationalists and “can be reasoned with.”

Where once there was talk of humanitarian intervention, now the focus has shifted to security threats and funding for aid has reduced even as the humanitarian crisis has worsened.

There is both a humanitarian and a political reason to continue aid work inside Syria, Barry Andrews argued; if you want forces of moderation to resist extremism, they need to be able to live and survive.

With thanks to the APPG for Syria Chair Roger Godsiff MP and his staff.

First published in Syria Notes.

Related at EA WorldView: Russia’s Aerial Victory—80% Aid Cut, 260,000 Displaced, Infrastructure Damaged.