4 min read  | Interviews, Politics

USAID Assistant Administrator: ‘The regime has a responsibility as a sovereign nation to provide access’


March 23, 2014

March 23, 2014

As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year, more than 2.5 million Syrians have fled their country, nearly one-third of Syrian citizens have been displaced from their homes and hundreds of civilians have starved to death as Amnesty International accuses the Syrian government of using hunger as a “weapon of war.”

NL-470x260As the international community struggles to mitigate the conflict’s massive humanitarian fallout, “the needs have escalated faster than the assistance,” according to Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator for the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance.

Last week, Lindborg sat down with United States Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones and a gathering of American and Jordanian journalists to discuss her view that, although important progress has been made in delivering aid across conflict lines, the Syrian government has thus far neglected its “responsibility to provide unfettered humanitarian access.”

Suleiman al-Khalidi, Reuters: The Syrian government is still procrastinating in terms of allowing access, and it looks like most of the food is ending up in regime-controlled areas.

Assistant Administrator Lindborg: We will be watching very closely the [United Nations] Security Council report [on the implementation of Resolution 2139 for rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access across conflict lines], which as you know will be issued on March 27.

There has been some small progress in terms of going across lines. So there will be an opportunity quite clearly in the report to articulate where the barriers still remain, to show what has been accomplished and what has not. The language is unambiguous that the international community demands unfettered humanitarian access including to many of these communities that have been literally besieged. There is no excuse to not allow assistance to reach people who have been suffering and in many cases literally starving.

Khetam Malkawi, Jordan Times: 200,000 refugees are expected to cross into Jordan in 2014 and we already have over 600,000 registered refugees. We all want to help the Syrian children to go to school, but at the same time it is affecting the quality of education for Jordanian students. We don’t have enough space to host all Syrian children.

Assistant Administrator Lindborg: We have a strong commitment to ensure that assistance is reaching not just the Syrian children but also that it is getting to Jordanian children. One of the significant programs that we are doing here in Jordan is to expand and rehabilitate schools, as well as to build new schools and to provide the kind of help that directly helps Jordanian communities.

Ambassador Jones: We are now working on expanding and rehabilitating twenty schools in northern Jordan as part of our overall national educational program.

It is important to remember that in addition to being the lead international donor for humanitarian assistance to the theatre, the United States is also providing direct assistance to Jordan, on top of our annual assistance program.

Last year we gave $200 million in additional cash assistance to the Government of Jordan aimed at education and health because of the extra burdens posed by the Syrian refugees. And we also gave the $1.25 billion loan guarantee last year and this year this year the president has announced his intent to repeat that and we are also looking at additional cash assistance. So we will be working at all levels with government partners in the communities and also with the central government

Jacob Wirtschafter, Syria Direct: Just this week at Yarmouk camp in Damascus, UNWRA was trying to distribute food parcels and the effort fell apart because of lack of coordination and the inability to handle so many people pressing to get the first nutrition available to them in weeks. Additionally we hear that amounts of food are just really off. What can be done and what is the United States doing to increase the amount of nutrition reaching people inside the conflict zones?

Assistant Administrator Linborg: So right at the top, we all need to recognize that needs have escalated faster than the assistance. We were grateful to Kuwait for hosting the donors’ conference in January and we remain hopeful that more of the donors, who usually don’t contribute, step up to the plate because $6.5 billion is a gigantic sum.

Having said that, the United States has made an extraordinary effort, we are the single largest donor. because of the generosity of our Congress and the people of the United States and we know it is not enough and we are committed to doing everything we can. We’re committed to working through seasoned partners, the UN, NGOs local groups all channels to ensure that as much as we can assistance will be channeled to people throughout Syria.

Assistant Administrator Lindborg: This is one of the most complex and dangerous humanitarian environments on the globe. Aid workers are dying along with the people of Syria.  So nothing is perfect about this response. The regime has a responsibility as a sovereign nation to provide the access that is necessary to help families, so that they do not experience this kind of suffering.  

And that is exactly the point of the U.N. Security Council resolution. They have a responsibility to allow unfettered humanitarian access without which all the money in the world will not make any difference. If we cannot reach people we cannot ensure they will receive the assistance. The international community is trying hard to provide the kind of humanitarian assistance that is so desperately needed by these families. It is up to the Syrian regime to help make sure that that it is reaching everybody.

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