Syrian war escalates as humanitarian leaders meet in Turkey

Syrian war escalates as humanitarian leaders meet in Turkey

By Luke Vargas   
World leaders pose together at the start of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. May 23, 2016. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
World leaders pose together at the start of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. May 23, 2016. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Critics say a humanitarian gathering in Turkey is undermined by an unfocused agenda and an atmosphere of impunity at the United Nations

UNITED NATIONS (Talk Media News) – Increased fighting and a pair of terror attacks in Syria overshadowed the start of the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit on Monday, underscoring the challenges world leaders face in forming a coordinated response to the Syrian war and other global crises.

In the latest blow to a February ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced its intention to abandon the ceasefire if the Assad government fails to stop attacks on the besieged Damascus suburbs of Daraya and Eastern Ghouta.

The ceasefire “gives [the] Assad regime and its allies legal coverage to continue to commit massacres and crimes,” the group said, noting its intention to withdraw from the accord if regime attacks failed to stop by Tuesday.

Such a move appears unlikely, following recent attacks by the Syrian and Russian militaries on a variety of rebel targets across the country in recent days, from Aleppo to Homs.

The Syrian Civil War is currently in its fifth year and civilian displacement from the country is not abating. 248,913 new Syrian refugees were registered between January 1st and May 22nd, according to U.N. figures, bringing the total number of Syrians displaced from the country to 4,844,111.

The worsening situation in Syria coincides with a World Humanitarian Summit taking place on Monday and Tuesday in neighboring Turkey. Representatives from more than 175 nations are attending the summit at the invitation of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who hoped to use the gathering to push his so-called Agenda for Humanity.

The agenda calls for governments to develop better means to identify risks, act early in responding to conflicts and invest in the long-term stability of post-conflict states.

Ban first called for the hosting of such a summit four years ago, but a confluence of global crises – from Syria’s refugee displacement to mass hunger events caused by El Niño-related drought and a spate of natural disasters – bloated an already overwhelming list of agenda items.

“We are all here because global humanitarian action is unprecedentedly strained,” Ban said at the summit’s opening session. “Every year, the needs rise and the funding shortfalls grow.”

A U.N. promotional video for the World Humanitarian Summit:

The U.N. is facing a record funding shortfall estimated at more than $10 billion, while dozens of other national humanitarian appeals are in similarly dire financial situations.

Summit host Turkey is using the gathering to highlight its humanitarian contributions and promote its image on the world stage. Turkish President and summit host Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday that Turkey is among the countries most effected by a lack of global funding for humanitarian disasters.

“The country that best knows this issue and that bitterly experiences this weakness is Turkey,” he said. “While the amount spent for the refugees in our country exceeds $10 billion, the contribution of the international community remained at $455 million. I hope that World Humanitarian Summit will serve as a turning point in all these areas.”

In addition to persistent funding problems, several individual member states and NGO’s dented political momentum leading into the summit.

Kenya made a surprise announcement earlier this month that it intends to close all of its refugee camps, a devastating development as the U.N. calls on countries to accept more refugees. That announcement throws into question the future for some 530,000 living in Kenyan refugee camps, and hampers one of Ban Ki-moon’s summit goals: “halving the number of internally displaced people by 2030.”

decision by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders to boycott the summit amid increased attacks on its hospitals also highlighted mounting frustration with the U.N.’s inability to prevent and pursue accountability for attacks on civilians. 75 Doctors Without Borders hospitals were bombed in 2015, including high-profile incidents in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

“We no longer have any hope that the [World Humanitarian Summit] will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations,” the charity said in a statement, calling the summit a “fig leaf of good intention” that will allow participants to make vague political commitments and avoid responsibility for their actions.

Member states attending the World Humanitarian Summit are expected to announce financial and other pledges of support during Tuesday’s closing plenary session.

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