Action Against Hunger calls on the governments gathered at the third, three-day donor conference in Brussels to combine emergency aid with a commitment to building resilience in the war-torn country.
Following eight years of war, an estimated 6.5 million Syrians are food insecure and 40 percent of the population spend a staggering two-thirds of their income on food.
Thousands of Syrian widows and single women have become heads of their families, responsible for generating income for the home as well as maintaining an intense burden of domestic labor. When food is scarce, women and girls are often the first among family members who must cut back on their rations. In the poorest households, diet is based on the daily intake of just bread, tea, and sugar, leading to malnutrition. Among young girls, both early marriages and dropping out of school early have increased.
“The crisis has not ended in Syria,” says Chiara Saccardi, head of Action Against Hunger in Syria and the region. “Despite the reduction in general violence, hostilities persist and people continue to die every day. Even when the violence ceases, the situation will not change from night to day. Syria is a devastated country; eight years of conflict have destroyed markets, livelihoods, water, and infrastructures. Going back to the starting point will take time.”
Returns must be voluntary, dignified, and safe
Approximately 1.4 million Syrians, mainly internally displaced people (IDPs), returned home in 2018. A large majority found themselves homeless or without health, education, or basic water and sanitation services.
"We must bear in mind that when we talk about returns we do not refer to the five million refugees outside of Syria. In the vast majority of cases they are IDPs, a segment of the population that amounts to approximately 6.2 million people who have been forced to leave their homes, and who have more difficulties in accessing international aid,” explains Saccardi.
Clearing explosives is another key condition for the safe return of people. Even during a cessation of hostilities, one in two people are still exposed to the risks associated with mines and remaining explosives.
Access to water and sanitation is a priority
Action Against Hunger, present in Syria since 2008, has focused its humanitarian response on water, sanitation, and hygiene programs.
“More than 70 percent of wastewater is not treated, and waste treatment systems simply do not work, which remains a serious threat for public health. Recent outbreaks of Leishmaniasis could be just the tip of the iceberg,” Saccardi warns.
“Rehabilitation of destroyed water networks should be a priority for international financing. Distributing water using tankers is no longer sustainable, and restoring basic services needs to be addressed as soon as possible,” she adds.
Aid should not be limited to emergency response
“This third Brussels conference is an opportunity to demonstrate that the international community remains committed to the Syrian people,” explains Jean-Raphaël Poitou, head of humanitarian advocacy at Action Against Hunger.
He also stresses that financial aid should not be limited to emergency response programs, but should also start to integrate resilience programs to help support agriculture, livestock, and income generation. The 2018 drought has been an additional blow to food production.