The convoy of 78 trucks taking food, bedding and medicine to
Syria's mainly Kurdish Hasakah province was seen as a test of the
willingness of Syria's authorities and rebels to abide by a U.N.
resolution urging them to let aid across front lines and borders by
the most direct routes.
But no distribution lists have been made available for this or any
other U.N. delivery since the resolution, aid workers in Gaziantep
near the Turkish border say, hampering the efforts of a plethora of
charities trying to co-ordinate a response to the world's biggest
"We still don't know where it went and we're not comfortable with
this. The U.N. is constrained by the (Syrian) regime," said a
Turkish official, speaking under condition he not be identified as
his government has not taken a public stance on the issue.
Syria's war has killed more than 150,000 people, with more than nine
million in need of humanitarian assistance. Its complicated
patchwork of fighting has made aid provision harder.
The United Nations estimates 3.5 million of the people in need of
aid live in areas that are difficult or impossible to reach for
humanitarian workers, including more than 240,000 people besieged by
government or opposition forces.
The convoy, dispatched over a largely deserted frontier to a region
controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, was meant
to be a test case to show that the issue of access can be dealt with
under the U.N. resolution. But there were doubts from the outset
over whether assistance would reach those in rebel-held areas in
According to stipulations set by the Syrian government, the delivery
was passed to Syrian partner agencies including the Syrian Arab Red
Reuters asked the United Nations in Damascus for information on the
final distribution of aid in Hasakah, but was told no one was
available to speak. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent could not be
reached for comment.
The U.N. resolution, adopted by the Security Council in February in
a rare show of unanimity on Syria, sought to boost humanitarian
access and threatened to take "further steps" if Syria's government
and the rebels failed to comply.
But the lack of transparency around U.N. deliveries makes that hard
to monitor, according to international non-government organizations
(NGOs), which wrote to several U.N. Security Council members last
month warning a lack of coordination meant assistance was not
reaching priority areas.
"I can't know if it's done well or badly as the U.N. hasn't told us
exactly who the aid has gone to," said the project manager of one
Western NGO, declining to be identified for fear of jeopardizing
already fragile relations with the world body.
"It's doubly damaging because there is no accountability,
transparency or coordination and all the while Assad is claiming
credit (for aid deliveries) and criminalizing anyone who is crossing
the border in rebel-held areas."
"SCATTERED LIKE SEEDS"
The United Nations has delivered shipments of aid from within Syria
to some rebel-held areas, including most recently in the northern
districts of Aleppo and Idlib, but the Hasakah delivery is so far
the world body's only attempt to reach rebel-held areas from across
the Turkish border.
NGOs complain that despite multiple requests, the United Nations has
so far failed to share its methodology in identifying those most in
need and monitoring where its aid goes after delivery. Often it does
not even disclose what its food aid includes.
That makes effective coordination among the dozens of Syrian and
international agencies operating out of Turkey, most of them using
the southern city of Gaziantep as a hub, unnecessarily complicated,
[to top of second column]
"It starts with coordinated needs assessments, coordinating with
donors and responding in a systematic way. We immediately monitor
where the aid went," said Dominic Bowen, coordinator of the NGO
Forum in Gaziantep, which represents international groups making
cross-border aid deliveries.
"Failing to do so can result in
duplication and massive market distortion," he told Reuters.
One European charity said it had to cancel an aid delivery to Idlib
about a month ago, after being told a day in advance that the United
Nations planned to serve those areas. U.N. officials did not reveal
their specific distribution plan.
"The U.N. is not alone. They should be part of the group. We're all
equal," said the project manager of the NGO, which delivers some 30
trucks of food baskets and bread to Idlib and Aleppo each month.
"Distribution is not just crossing the border and scattering aid
like seeds," he said, also speaking on condition of anonymity to
avoid antagonizing the United Nations.
The United Nations' Jordan-based regional Humanitarian Coordinator
Nigel Fisher acknowledged the concerns.
"Obviously this is a critical issue. People on all sides recognize
there are problems with developing an information sharing program,"
he said, recognizing that the majority of cross-border assistance
was being delivered by NGOs and saying that efforts to improve
coordination were underway.
"STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION"
A meeting in Gaziantep at the end of last month brought together
more than 100 aid workers from the United Nations and Syrian and
international NGOs. Delegates said frustration that the world body
had to seek approval from the Syrian government for its deliveries
in spite of the February Security Council resolution was the
"elephant in the room".
"The idea of cross border deliveries itself is not a mistake. But
they need permission of the regime and it is not letting them
deliver where the aid is most needed," said Yakzan Shishakly,
director of Syrian NGO Maram Foundation.
He said Syrian NGOs needed the United Nations to help direct funding
because donors trusted the world body.
Fisher, the Jordan-based U.N. humanitarian coordinator, said the
United Nations was "very sympathetic" to NGO concerns over access to
Several NGOs also called on the United Nations to help overcome
other barriers such as administrative hurdles by lobbying host
nations including Turkey, which had to agree to the U.N. convoy
crossing in March.
"Advocacy, opening up borders, overcoming challenges to humanitarian
actors getting visas, generally helping us to deliver aid from
Turkey which we have been doing for years - the (February)
resolution gives them cover to do this," said the project manager of
the Western NGO.
(Editing by Nick Tattersall and Peter Graff)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.