International efforts to address Syria’s worsening humanitarian crisis have been piecemeal and continue to confront severe obstacles both diplomatically and on the ground.
At the second round of peace talks in Geneva, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi candidly admitted, “We are not making much progress.” The first round of talks, held in January, failed to produce substantial results, other than an agreed ceasefire in the rebel-held city of Homs.
Under the brief humanitarian truce, Syrian authorities have allowed the evacuation of more than 1,200 people from Homs and the delivery of nearly 200 UN aid parcels containing basic foodstuffs. During the evacuation, Syrian authorities detained some 300 boys and men for questioning, while their families told news agencies at the scene that they had been surviving on grass and olives. The Old City of Homs has been a battleground for the past 18 months.
Last week, the UN Security Council began debating a draft resolution that would demand access for humanitarian aid across Syria’s most hard-hit areas. But Russia reaffirmed its rejection of the idea, saying that the resolution was “absolutely one-sided and detached from reality”.
International efforts on chemical weapons have been marginally more successful. According to the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPWC), Syria has sent out its third shipment of chemical weapons material on a Norwegian ship, which was joined by vessels from China, Russia, Norway and Denmark.
This third shipment, however, follows a series of missed deadlines. A week earlier, Syria had been due to deliver the remaining stock of its “priority two” chemical materials. The removal of these materials has been conducted under a joint UN-OPWC programme ever since Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The Syrian government is supposed to surrender all of its reported chemical weapons stock by 30 June, but the recent missed deadlines could threaten this final target date. Of the 1,300 tonnes to be surrendered by mid-2014, only 30 tonnes, or about 4 per cent, has been removed.
In the Syrian civil war, weapons have not been limited to bullets and mortar shells. The regime and the opposition alike have used aid, diplomatic conferences, and even the media as weapons in an increasingly chaotic war of attrition. A study from Reporters Without Borders says that press freedom in the region has been threatened by the continued targeting of journalists from groups that want to control information flows in and out of the country.
Since the start of the civil war almost three years ago, more than 120,000 people have died, and 9.5 million have left their homes. As these numbers climb higher, international outsiders have focused on addressing Syria’s humanitarian crisis, but that may require a political solution. For now, no such progress seems forthcoming.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons