As humanitarian and human rights organisations working to alleviate the plight of civilians affected by the crisis in Syria, we welcome efforts by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to pressure the Syrian government and non-state armed actors to lift the sieges across the country and ensure that civilians have unhindered access to humanitarian aid.
The ISSG’s call for the UN World Food Program to carry out a program of air drops and air bridges for all besieged areas – should humanitarian access continue to be denied from June 1st – is a step that could help alleviate hunger and human suffering. However, airdrops are complicated, inefficient, limited in their scope, and risk the diversion of aid. It is unconscionable that the warring parties’ continued refusal to allow aid to suffering civilians has necessitated using an option of last resort.
By some estimates, more than one million Syrians are affected by sieges across Syria. The ISSG’s priority should be to end all sieges and ensure full, sustained, and unimpeded humanitarian access across all priority sectors throughout the country, while ensuring that aid is not used as a bargaining chip for political negotiations.
As co-leads of the ISSG, Russia and the US must pursue all channels so that humanitarian access unconditionally reaches all people in need. If access is not granted by the government and other parties to the conflict, they must ensure that the best conditions possible are put in place for air drops and air bridges to take place so that aid gets to those who need it most.
Although air drops can provide some urgent short term relief, they cannot meet the needs of the Syrian people long term and they must not be a distraction from efforts to gain full and sustained access and the lifting of sieges. One-off deliveries by land or air are insufficient and unacceptable. The international community should settle for nothing less than sufficient and unfettered humanitarian access across all sectors throughout the country.
Now is the time for the ISSG to show the strength of its resolve. The lifting of the sieges is a test of the ISSG members’ commitment to save civilians from slow death and starvation. The ISSG members should no longer tolerate the war crimes that are taking place before their eyes. We call on them to redouble their efforts to bring their collective and bilateral influence to bear on the warring parties to ensure full, sustained and unimpeded access to populations in need.