World Food Program delivers aid in Syria in 2002 credit: WFP/Abeer Etefa

A Risky Humanitarian Relief Gambit Pays Off

Last month, the Security Council authorized the cross border delivery of aid to Syria through four border points, even if the Syrian government did not consent to the delivery of aid. This was a potentially risky move.

The delivery of humanitarian assistance is generally premised on the fact that the aid is being distributed with the cooperation, or at least consent, of the government on whose territory the aid is being delivered. You run into big problems when convoys of trucks purporting to delivery humanitarian assistance mass at a border and enter a war zone. (See: Ukraine.) So, the consent of the host country is generally considered a pre-requisite to the delivery of aid.

The Security Council resolution permitting the delivery of aid regardless of whether or not the Syrian government authorizes it was radical — and risky — because it undermined this basic premise of the humanitarian system. At first it looked like the Syrians would attack the aid convoys.  The Syrian Ambassador to the UN blatantly threatened to attack aid convoys that crossed into Syrian territory without official permission from the government.

It would seem that those threats were just bluster. As of last week, eight relief and aid shipments have crossed into Syria from four border crossings without incident. Aid was able to reach tens of thousands of stranded Syrians who had previously been beyond the reach of international aid.

This is promising start to a risky aid operation. It is also important to put this in context: there are nearly 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, over half of whom live in areas not under the control of the government. Meanwhile, the number of people who need humanitarian assistance has increased for every month that the conflict has dragged on.  With the war showing no signs of abating anytime soon, we can expect that humanitarians will take on even greater risks to reach people in need.