Wednesday September 22nd, 2021 10:50AM

Pleas for more aid to Syria: 'We don't have nearly enough'

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

BEIRUT (AP) — At age 19, Fatima al-Omar is at her wits' end. In the last year alone, she lost her home to fighting in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave and her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She became the sole breadwinner for her mother, three siblings and grandmother as they moved around between shelters.

Then the coronavirus struck, aggravating conditions in northwest Syria just as new fighting had uprooted 1 million people — the biggest wave of displacement in the country's 10-year war. By late 2020, al-Omar contracted COVID-19, costing her the last job she had picking olives. She hasn't been able to find work since and is now at risk of another eviction.

“It was all difficult, but it just keeps getting harder,” al-Omar said, speaking by phone from the latest home she moved to in Binnish, a small town in rebel-held Idlib province.

Despite the worsening humanitarian situation across war-ravaged Syria, it’s been getting tougher every year to raise money from global donors to help people like al-Omar. The aid community is bracing for significant shortfalls ahead of a donor conference that starts Monday in Brussels and is being co-hosted by the United Nations and the European Union.

Pledges were already dropping off before the coronavirus pandemic mainly due to donor fatigue. Officials fear that with the global economic downturn spurred by the pandemic, international assistance for Syria is about to take a new hit just when it is needed most. Earlier this month, a U.N. appeal for aid to Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, was less than 50% funded, in what U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a disappointment.

Across Syria, the pandemic has compounded the worst economic crisis since the conflict began in 2011. The local currency has crashed and food prices have soared — increasing by 222% from last year. Nine out of 10 people live below the poverty line and in northwest Syria, close to three-quarters of the 4.3 million residents are food insecure.

According to the U.N., 13.4 million people in Syria, more than half the country's pre-war population, need assistance. That's a 20% increase from last year.

“We don’t have nearly enough money to provide all the services that are needed,” said Mark Cutts, the U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria.

“It is still just a struggle for survival for all these people and it is often the women, the children and the elderly and people with disabilities who are suffering most.”

The U.N. and other aid groups are seeking more than $4 billion for aid within Syria at this year's conference, their biggest appeal yet. Another $5.8 billion are requested for nearly 6 million Syrian refugees who fled their homeland.

Over the years, pledges have typically fallen short. The humanitarian appeal for 2020 was 45% below its $3.82 billion target — nearly a 14% drop from the year before.

“We fully realize that in donor countries there is also a COVID effect, that budgets are strained,” said Fillipo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees. “But clearly because of that same pandemic that has an effect on budgets, this is not the time to let go.”

In the rebel-held area, coronavirus pandemic restrictions have further slowed economic activity, closing schools and reducing trade and movement with Turkey — the enclave’s gateway to the world.

Women and children are being forced to find low-paying and risky jobs, including minors collecting trash, begging or being recruited by armed groups. Aid groups say reports of suicide attempts among young men and adolescents are on the rise.

One in three children are out of school, down from about 70% enrollment a year earlier, said Amjad Yamin, of Save the Children.

The World Food Program reduced its monthly food basket throughout Syria to stretch available funding and prevent a reduction in the number of people reached. That meant dropping calories from 2,100 per person to 1,264 — a 40% decrease. Some families said the rice ration in the basket has gone down by half.

Meanwhile, water needs have increased by 40% because of the pandemic, but funding has not kept up. In a letter shared with The Associated Press, local non-governmental organizations told donors that cuts could potentially force as many as 55 water stations across northwestern Syria to shut down, denying nearly 740,000 people access to water.

“The gaps are enormous,” said CARE International’s Tue Jakobsen.

Reports of anticipated aid cuts — as high as 67% by some of the largest donors — were leaked in emails or relayed in private meetings. Aid workers have tried to adjust budgets and plan for the reductions.

The cuts could also put thousands of people out of work and force a couple of displacement camps to close, the letter shared with the AP said.

It has already been a struggle for al-Omar and her family to get help.

Since her family lost their home, they have not received any food assistance, she said. Savings have been used to pay for part of for her mother's cancer treatment. Charity and local donations financed the rest, including lengthy medical trips to Turkey. Cash assistance that has helped her pay rent is not guaranteed.

Al-Omar's pantry, where she kept food reserves such as pickles and jams, is empty. “We have nothing. We have no water. No food,” said al-Omar, whose father abandoned the family 11 years ago. “We are below zero.”

Al-Omar's best job was working from home, sewing masks and earning about $7 for every 1,500 masks completed. It meant staying safe and looking after her siblings. But she lost it when she moved to Binnish where rent is cheaper.

A year into displacement, she dreams of a room in one of the camps for displaced people. “It would be better than all this moving," she said. “This is exhausting.”

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Financial Markets
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Pleas for more aid to Syria: 'We don't have nearly enough'
The humanitarian situation across war-ravaged Syria is worsening
2:04AM ( 10 minutes ago )
What To Watch: men's, women's regional finals start Monday
The men's and women's NCAA Tournament regional finals begin Monday
1:57AM ( 16 minutes ago )
China cuts taxes to spur semiconductor development
China has announced tax breaks to spur growth of its semiconductor industry following U.S. sanctions that cut off access to American processor chips for tech giant Huawei and some other companies
1:56AM ( 18 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Thousands flee into Thailand following Myanmar air strikes
Thai authorities along the country’s northwestern border are bracing for a possible influx of more ethnic Karen villagers fleeing new air strikes from the Myanmar military
12:09AM ( 2 hours ago )
Unbeaten Zags keep rolling with 83-65 rout of Creighton
Top-seeded Gonzaga did against Creighton what it’s done throughout this unblemished season
11:58PM ( 2 hours ago )
Video of Floyd arrest may appear early at ex-cop's trial
A former Minneapolis police officer goes on trial Monday in George Floyd’s death, and jurors may not wait long to see parts of the bystander video that caught Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck
11:47PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
The Latest: Metro Manila, outlying provinces go on lockdown
Philippine officials placed Metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces, a region of more than 25 million people, back to a lockdown Monday at the height of the Lenten and Easter holiday travel season as they scrambled to control an alarming surge in coronavirus infections
11:22PM ( 2 hours ago )
Floyd family, leaders hold prayer service on eve of trial
National civil rights leaders appeared alongside several family members of George Floyd at a prayer service, hours before opening statements were set to begin in the murder trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd's death
10:45PM ( 3 hours ago )
Funerals become scenes of Myanmar resistance, more violence
Myanmar security forces have opened fire on a crowd attending the funeral of student who was killed on the bloodiest day yet of a crackdown on protests against last month’s coup
8:51PM ( 5 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Infant found alive after Egypt building collapse kills 25
Search and rescue workers pulled a 6-month-old baby alive from the rubble of a collapsed building in Cairo as the death toll rose to 25,  Egyptian officials say
9:44PM ( 4 hours ago )
N. Korea accuses UN of double standard over missile firings
North Korea has accused the United Nations of a “double standard” over its reaction to the North’s missile launches, warning it of a serious consequence
9:23PM ( 4 hours ago )
UN rights investigator Agnes Callamard named Amnesty chief
Agnes Callamard, who led a United Nations’ investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has been appointed to lead Amnesty International
8:53PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP World News
Biden economic plan to focus 1st on infrastructure this week
Facing a divided Congress, President Joe Biden will lay out the first part of his multi-trillion dollar economic recovery package this week focusing on rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure, followed by a separate plan later in April addressing child and health care
1:16PM ( 12 hours ago )
Paris doctors warn of catastrophic overload of virus cases
Critical care doctors in Paris say that surging coronavirus infections could soon overwhelm their ability to care for the sick, possibly forcing them to choose which patients to treat
1:00PM ( 13 hours ago )
Key events since George Floyd's arrest and death
George Floyd's death after his arrest by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, sparked widespread anger after millions of people saw video of the event
11:59AM ( 14 hours ago )
AP Business
Path from Clinton to Biden takes U-turn on debt, trade, more
Times have changed since the 1990s
7:46AM ( 18 hours ago )
Pope on pandemic's second year: Weariness, economic hardship
For a second time in the pandemic, Pope Francis is leading Holy Week ceremonies without the usual crowds of pilgrims and tourists
7:30AM ( 18 hours ago )
China sanctions US, Canadian officials over Xinjiang
China has announced new sanctions against U.S. and Canadian officials in a growing political and economic feud over its policies in the traditionally Muslim region of Xinjiang
11:38PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Economy
The eviction moratorium is expiring. What will Biden do?
President Joe Biden’s administration is cutting things close on a nationwide eviction moratorium, which is set to expire in less than a week
12:30AM ( 2 days ago )
S&P 500 returns to a record high after best day in weeks
U.S. stocks burst to their best day in three weeks Friday, helping Wall Street to return to record heights and avoid what could have been a second straight weekly loss
4:39PM ( 2 days ago )
Stocks climb, erasing weekly losses for the S&P 500 index
Stocks rose on Wall Street Friday, erasing the market’s losses from earlier in the week and avoiding a second straight weekly drop for the S&P 500
4:06PM ( 2 days ago )
AP Business - Financial Markets
Ship 'partially refloated,' but still stuck in Suez Canal
Engineers have partially refloated the container ship that is wedged across the Suez Canal
2:13AM ( 1 minute ago )
What To Watch: men's, women's regional finals start Monday
The men's and women's NCAA Tournament regional finals begin Monday
1:57AM ( 16 minutes ago )
China cuts taxes to spur semiconductor development
China has announced tax breaks to spur growth of its semiconductor industry following U.S. sanctions that cut off access to American processor chips for tech giant Huawei and some other companies
1:56AM ( 18 minutes ago )
AP Exclusive: WHO report says animals likely source of COVID
A joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that transmission from bats to humans through another animal is the most likely scenario and that a lab leak of the coronavirus is “extremely unlikely.”
1:23AM ( 51 minutes ago )
Suez Canal blockage adds to pressure points in global trade
Delays in freeing a mammoth container ship stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal have highlighted still more pressure points in global trade, a year after supply chains were disrupted by the pandemic
1:18AM ( 55 minutes ago )