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Making US humanitarian aid to Syria a political tool is ineffective – and dangerous

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Beyond being ineffectual, proposed moves to use aid as a political tool would be dangerous. Humanitarian access to civilians in need relies on adherence to the core principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and operational independence. These are not abstract ideals; they are pragmatic tools central to the credibility and safety of Syrians we serve and humanitarian workers. Politicizing the aid effort would demolish these principles and put the Syrians we work with – not to mention my colleagues and me – at much greater risk.

In each Syrian town where my aid agency works, we have invested months building the relationships with local militias, governing councils, and community groups that enable our staff to safely deliver aid. If any party to the conflict sees us as partial to one side or another, those relationships could quickly unravel, and our work would be severely threatened.

It is also a myth that humanitarian aid in Syria is ineffective. Humanitarian assistance supported by the US government and other donors has ramped up substantially since last fall and is now making a difference for many hundreds of thousands of Syrians. My organization – since beginning work in Aleppo governorate last summer – has provided critical support to more than 400,000 people, and we are just one of several major aid agencies active in opposition-held areas.

But, yes, we are not yet reaching all the people who need our help. The war poses a constant challenge, as the fighting limits access to many areas and frequently interrupts aid delivery. One of the most critical challenges, however, has been the peculiar situation in which the United Nations finds itself. Though active within Assad regime-controlled territories, the UN has been forced to the sidelines in opposition-held areas due to objections by the Syrian government and inaction by the UN Security Council. This has prevented the UN from playing its usual role in large aid efforts, leaving humanitarian agencies such as ours to coordinate those efforts independently.

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