Humanitarian Challenges in Eastern Ghouta
Despite the UN Security Council Resolution 2401 unanimously passed calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, a sustainable outcome has not been reached thus far. Eastern Ghouta has been under increased heavy fire since the year began, endangering the already vulnerable population even further. Attempts by both political actors and humanitarian aid agencies have repeatedly called for violence to pause for 30 days to provide necessary humanitarian assistance to the individuals currently residing in hard to reach areas in the center of the violence. The inability of the international community to adequately assist the people of Eastern Ghouta is not only detrimental to those still holding out hope in the region, but also to the larger goal of rebuilding Syria and creating a safe place for Syrians to return to after the war ends.
Recent attempts to provide aid to Eastern Ghouta have been met with moderate success, however the vulnerabilities and insecurity risks for the individuals in the region are far greater than the available aid thus far. An aid convoy sent to Douma was unable to fully deliver their aid the week following the resolution due to insecurity in the city. The convo—led by the United Nations, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross—could not unload and deliver 14 out of the 46 trucks. While critical humanitarian supplies were delivered, the UN stated that over half of the food was undelivered.
Another attempt was made, and the remaining food was able to reach the city, however, since the aid was delivered the city has now been surrounded and cut off from future aid conveys. With the mediocre delivery of humanitarian aid thus far, it is concerning how much more aid will be able to be delivered to the hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need. Furthermore, a deal was reached between Russia and the Jaysh al-Islam rebel group to allow people and those with dire medical needs to evacuate the town safely to Syrian forces held areas. However, not nearly enough of those most in need have been able to leave and access the care necessary.
Critiques of the aid delivery process called on the UN to stop allowing aid to be weaponized by the Syrian government, despite the long hours it takes to access besieged areas of Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian government will continue to deny access for aid delivery until they feel they have more to gain from the agreement, such as rebels calling a ceasefire. Even with Russia’s recommended 5 hours of ceasefire to allow individuals to leave the area safely, that does not provide aid deliveries with enough time to move through checkpoints and safely deliver the aid. In one of the initial aid delivery attempts, explosions could be heard and shelling occurred while humanitarian workers attempted to deliver as much aid as possible.
In light of both the continued attempts to deliver aid and assistance and the continued fighting, now more than ever the international community needs to act and help the individuals living in harsh conditions, surviving one whatever food and supplies they are able to access. A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross stated: “The people are tired and angry, desperate, exhausted, hopeless. They want it to stop. They want to be able to live with dignity, eat normal food, not spend their days in the basement,” illuminating the long-term effects of continual vulnerabilities and insecurities only getting worse in the region.
Since 2018 began, over 1,000 children have been killed or seriously injured as a result of the violence. Despite recent ceasefires in Eastern Ghouta with two rebel groups, Duoma remains under rebel control. The fighting will continue, risking the lives of thousands of civilians until the government regains complete control. Russia’s unwillingness or inability to hold the Syrian regime accountable for ceasefires to allow humanitarian aid to those in need will endure and further deteriorate the situation in Eastern Ghouta.
Humanitarian aid agencies will continue to attempt aid convoys and risk their own lives to support and assist vulnerable populations. Political entities will continue to decry the violent actions repeatedly committed in Syria. More still needs to be done to ensure the human dignity and life that each individual in the besieged areas deserve and ensure that humanitarian situations do not worsen in the communities who will receive fleeing individuals from Eastern Ghouta.