The stories we continue to hear from ordinary people inside Syria paint a horrifying picture of everyday life for tens of thousands of people. The violence that is causing their pain and suffering makes it incredibly difficult to get the latest picture of the exact situation on the ground. But what we do know is that the situation is getting worse and the scale of humanitarian need is huge.
Ordinary families are increasingly caught up in the violence. More than 1.2 million people have been driven out of their homes and four million people are in need of assistance. There is bread and electricity shortage, rising food prices and a fuel crisis that is making life even more difficult as winter brings freezing temperatures.
The UK has been at the forefront of the international response to the Syrian crisis and is one of the largest humanitarian donors. In nine months our aid has provided the Syrian people with 430,000 food rations per month; clean water for over 11,300 people every month; relief packages including basic kitchen sets, blankets and warm clothing for nearly 16,000 people; and medical care to some 40,000 sick and wounded Syrians.
Helping the Syrian people remains an absolute priority for my department, especially with winter setting in. That’s why we have announced that we will be providing 15 million British pounds in new funding to get food, clean water, medical aid and winter survival items, such as blankets and coats, for hundreds of thousands more people affected by the fighting, including those in contested and opposition-held areas.
This brings total funding from the UK to 68.5 million pounds for those inside Syria, including 24 million pounds to support the response in the Syrian region where aid from the UK is making a real difference to refugees who have fled to Syria’s neighbors.
From May to September this year, our funding to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) helped over 6,300 sick and injured Syrians in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. 16,000 food rations per month were provided to people in those same countries through the World Food Program, which helped to protect children from malnutrition. We also expect to have provided clean drinking water to over 47,700 people by the end of 2012.
But as the violence continues, humanitarian workers are operating at greater risk to themselves and are being prevented from reaching the Syrian people affected by the fighting. Eight UN staff and 18 Syrian Arab Red Crescent members have been killed, and the UN has pulled all non-essential staff out of Damascus.
We know that our aid is making a huge difference but it is absolutely essential to ensure aid agencies continue to be able to deliver this necessary support. That is why a proportion of our latest funding will go to providing aid agencies with eight armored cars so that they can safely get aid to people in areas of ongoing conflict.
We also need to see other changes as a matter of urgency if we are to ensure we can reach all those in need.
These changes include:
• Free access to those in need to be guaranteed to humanitarian workers by all parties in the conflict. The reports of worsening violence make this more pressing.
• Respect from all sides for international humanitarian law, which states that attacks can only be directed against military objectives and not against civilians, homes, schools or medical centers.
• Other countries stepping-up and playing their part in providing vital funding. Syria’s neighbors have shown huge generosity in opening their doors to those in need but the international community as a whole needs to take heed of the U.N.’s appeals for funding.
As we approach Christmas, we must not forget the plight of those suffering in Syria. We know that aid is getting through to a large number of people and in many cases is quite literally the difference between life and death.
The UK has led the way in responding to this crisis so far and we will continue to stand alongside the Syrian people in their time of need. In 2013, it is imperative that the wider international community steps up and plays its part.
(Justine Greening is the UK Secretary of State for International Development. This article was published in Pakistan’s The News International on Dec. 25, 2012)