Many readers might think that the title of the article is incorrect and it should have been “What can relief organizations do for people?”
The title is correct, since humanitarian relief organizations also sometimes need immediate aid. The volunteer relief workers whose activities are hampered, capabilities are restricted, who are subject to violence or even killed, also need assistance.
Imposing restrictions on their activities and not ensuring the security of humanitarian relief organizations result in sufferings in many places, especially in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The indigent people enduring civil wars or living in conflict zones are going through severe difficulties. The issue of ensuring the safety and security of relief organizations is one of the topics the international public should prioritize in addressing.
The status of the humanitarian relief organizations, which take their legitimacy from the 71st article of the Charter of the UN, is among the most prominent issues of international relations. They play as significant a role as governments or collective security organizations if not more.
These organizations have civil structures that are not affiliated with governments. They do not seek any profit; in other words they are voluntary non-governmental organizations. Since they do not follow a political or economical agenda, they have a wide action radius and can get into high-risk zones providing these regions with aid. Therefore, humanitarian relief organizations are the first thing that comes to mind not only in wars or civil conflicts, but also in situations such as natural disasters and epidemics. No matter how unfavorable the conditions are, when volunteer relief workers apply for a mission, they are usually welcomed with open arms by the locals and governments. However, the conditions are more different for war zones.
Conflicting parties in war zones stop relief convoys on the checkpoints that they establish. Although such control is necessary, the aids that are sent for the civilians are usually perceived as support to the enemy and can be interfered with, especially by the regime supporters.
Furthermore, even humanitarian relief organizations are sometimes subjected to armed attacks. It is possible to see many such examples in Syria. At the end of the last year, a relief convoy crossing the border from Turkey to Azez was targeted by an airstrike, 7 people died while 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid burned down. And in the month of March this year, Russia announced that their relief convoy had been hit.
In such situations, it is not always possible to determine if the attack was deliberate or accidental. In such circumstances, relief convoys are forced to retreat and civilians in war zones cannot receive staple foods and health services.
One of the most significant ways to reach the regions under siege is to airdrop relief goods. However, there are some issues with this approach. The first and foremost among them is the possibility that the aid may not reach those in need. Another problem is the aid could easily fall into the hands of those who might sell them for high prices.
Since it is hard to supervise humanitarian airdrops, it is highly likely that these relief goods might unexpectedly turn into support for opposing groups. In fact, Turkey has issued complaints about the terrorist organization YPG seizing the humanitarian relief that was sent for the people in Northern Syria.
In regions such as Syria where multiple sides are involved in the conflicts, the United Nations assuming more responsibilities regarding humanitarian relief might offer a solution. As a matter of fact, earlier this year, through the UN initiatives, it was stated that the Syrians living under the occupation of the Baath regime were allowed to be delivered aid, and the UN Humanitarian Relief Agency was able to send relief convoys to seven regions.
The UN intervention has a major significance in this development, since the UN forces are not usually faced with hindrance attempts much. The reason is the international public’s reaction to this kind of attacks can be quicker and more effective. Actually, this fact also serves as the proof of how dissuasive it is for this kind of attacks to be exposed and met with reaction from the public.
The UN also has an exclusive organization concerning humanitarian relief: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
OCHA operates in coordination with governments, NGOs and other UN institutions in order to respond to urgencies. OCHA’s activities are mainly carried out in cooperation with other UN institutions such as the Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Development Program (UNDP), World Food Program (WFP) and the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
However, the UN’s relief organizations are multinational, thus they have a bureaucratic structure and taking steps may take time. It is very important to have a wide-reaching humanitarian relief system in place, especially in multi-sided conflicts like Syria.
With regard to Syria, this situation necessitates an exclusive organizational structure for small relief organizations except the Red Crescent and the Red Cross.
Yet, forming an exclusive organization means a huge waste of time and again a life-threatening risk. Carrying out the operations of the aforementioned institutions under the supervision and surveillance of a UN official, and by hanging UN flags on relief convoys will provide great convenience. Operating in this way will also prevent the sides of the conflict from treating the relief groups with suspicion. Thus, the small relief convoys will be able to move with ease thanks to the security the UN flag will provide.
The most accurate step to take for the UN, which has a vital importance regarding humanitarian aids, is to adopt a system that will remove the bureaucratic obstacles ahead.
It is possible to eliminate the difficulties, bureaucratic obstacles and dangers the relief organizations encounter through various precautions and resolutions; but there is no doubt that these are merely going to be temporary solutions for those in need. For permanent solutions to be found, peace, stability and security should be achieved in those regions as soon as possible.
Therefore, the US, Russia, Turkey and other Muslim countries of the Middle East should convene and discuss the possible solutions for the problems. The Muslim countries, especially, should not forget that unity is the source of immense strength.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Arab News: