Syria: My enemy's doctor is my enemy
What do the Syrian National Coalition, a foreign jihadi group, a
All are providing varying degrees of ‘humanitarian’ aid to the side they support in the Syrian conflict, but none are able to curtail the immense suffering alone and none are able to ensure their aid reaches the most vulnerable first. This is not a simple war, and there are no simple aid solutions, but the status quo cannot be an option.
The political complexity of the crisis is mirrored in the humanitarian response; the majority of aid to
This is a challenge because the provider of aid becomes painted with a brush of political solidarity with one side or the other – and all aid becomes contested. Attempting to cross the frontlines of this conflict without the willingness of all parties means that you can be turned back at checkpoints as someone who has been assisting ‘the enemy’ or have to run the gauntlet of bombardment and snipers. But for aid to reach places like
Millions of people face severe shortages of food, fuel, shelter and clean water. Entire communities live in indescribable fear, under siege and constant shelling. Recently, there have been reported outbreaks in opposition controlled areas of typhoid and leishmaniasis. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was only able to donate medical supplies, as intense fighting meant our medical teams couldn’t reach these areas.
The destruction of health facilities has left a medical void. From the start of the conflict, denial of health care and the targeting of medical facilities and staff has been a tactic of war. Many areas rely on makeshift field hospitals, most of which are hasty conversions – from kitchen tables to underground basements. Health workers have fled the conflict areas and I have even seen a construction worker operating as a surgeon. Some of these field hospitals prioritise the treatment of fighters, leaving a gap in health provision for the general population.
The public health system is under huge strain. International sanctions have frozen financial assets and transactions, making it impossible for the government to purchase medical supplies internationally.
Without authorisation to work from the government, MSF has nevertheless established three unofficial hospitals in the north, while continuing to send – and sometimes illegally smuggle - relief and medical supplies into both government and opposition controlled territories. This is not the most effective way for us to respond to the immense needs across the country. Our response is a drop in the ocean.
The polarisation of aid is perpetuated on all sides. Regional and western powers have an interest in providing aid out of political solidarity. The United Nations is only able to channel aid through
Considering the way in which aid is delivered in
by Jonathan Whittall, head of humanitarian analysis for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)