United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay announced last month that the death toll in the Syrian uprising against the Bashar Al-Assad regime is approaching 70,000 – mostly civilians – making the conflict in Syria the bloodiest of all the revolts that have recently swept across the Middle East and North Africa region (Michelle Nichols, “Syria death toll likely near 70,000, says U.N. rights chief,” Reuters, 12 February 2013).
Pillay told the UN Security Council that in January and early February there were almost 10,000 new deaths, adding that the Council’s deep division and inaction over the nearly two-year-old conflict is “disastrous and that civilians on all sides had paid the price”.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has declared that over 5000 people are fleeing Syria each day as the violence escalates, with upwards of 700,000 refugees in total (Nicki Chadwick, “Five thousand refugees fleeing Syria everyday: UNHCR,” United Nations Radio, 8 February 2013).
International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino has announced a total of $48 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, the bulk of which is going to multilateral organizations such as the World Food Program.
But Nicholas Moyers argues that institutional donors such as the Canadian International Development Agency are not sufficient in responding the severity of the crisis in Syria (“Victims of Conflict in Syria, Mali deserve more attention,” Embassy, 20 February 2013):
In both [Syria and Mali], despite repeated requests for improved humanitarian access, aid agencies’ ability to reach affected and vulnerable civilians is limited. Moreover, their calls for additional funds and resources are drowned out by the attention given to the military and diplomatic moves by Canada and other international actors. As a result, civilian victims find themselves doubly ignored: first by the perpetrators of violence and then by those who want but cannot help them.
Unlike what happens when a natural disaster strikes, conflicts and slow-onset crises do not generate the same level of public engagement. There is indeed a documented hierarchy among disasters in terms of public generosity for humanitarian efforts. Catastrophes accompanied by poignant imagery inspire automatic impulses to support survivors; crises with complex, protracted causes, not so much. This is an unfortunate irony, as due to the early warning systems put in place by the international humanitarian community, there is a greater opportunity to save lives in cases of slow-onset disasters than following an earthquake, tsunami, or other flash occurrences. …
The Canadian government’s humanitarian response to the situations in Syria and Mali is welcome…
But institutional donors such as the Canadian International Development Agency are not sufficient. The absence of public donations to support non-governmental assistance leaves a massive gap to be filled, one that can be counted in lives that will not be saved.
The ongoing crises in Syria and Mali clearly demonstrate that Canada’s humanitarian sector needs to find more creative and convincing ways to alert the public to the needs of children, families, and vulnerable groups affected by conflicts.
Photo credit: Iran Project