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Transforming Syria’s Lifeline: A Plan for Sustaining Cross-Border Aid in Northwest Syria

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Introduction

On July 12, 2022, the UN Security Council (UNSC) renewed the cross-border resolution authorizing UN agencies to continue providing aid from Türkiye into Northwest Syria for six months. The renewal averted immediate catastrophe. But Russia’s insistence that the mandate be cut from 12 to 6 months created significant challenges and uncertainties around the UN cross-border aid effort. This outcome reflects diplomatic tensions within the UN Security Council exacerbated by the Ukraine war. It also underscored the fragility of the UN cross-border aid mechanism. 

Despite the six-month respite, Syrians cannot breathe a sigh of relief. As of June 2022, there are 4.1 million people in need in Northwest Syria, 3.1 million people are food insecure, and 1.7 million people are internally displaced and living in camps. In the middle of winter, when Syrians’ needs will be at their height, aid agencies and communities will be left to hope for a miracle in the UNSC negotiations to extend the resolution forward another six months to July 2023. As UN Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syrian Crisis Mark Cutts said, “Every year there is a risk of non-renewal, and each year the risk gets higher.” 

On July 8, 2022, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated, “I have long said this is a life-and-death issue,” and “people will die because of this vote.” Indeed, were Russia to veto the resolution and finally close the essential Bab-al-Hawa aid crossing in either January or July of 2023, millions of people would be left to fend for themselves. However, most are bereft of the means to do so. 

It will be extremely challenging to find adequate alternatives for the UN cross-border aid mechanism in the face of a Russian veto. However, donors and aid agencies must accelerate planning for this scenario and prepare to provide humanitarian aid as best as possible to the people of Northwest Syria. Syrian NGOs (SNGOs) and other civil society organizations must play a central role in formulating any such plan, which will likely have two main components. The first component should seek to mitigate the shocks of a possible halt to UN cross-border assistance on the immediate humanitarian relief effort. That effort will no doubt suffer. But there are steps that can be taken now to avoid the worst outcomes. 

The second component should lay the groundwork for a more sustainable aid strategy in Northwest Syria by strengthening early recovery and localization efforts in the response. For years, humanitarian interventions have focused on immediate needs. This has come at the expense of long-term and sustainable strategies to equip people with the means to build self-reliance. Donors and international aid agencies should seek to alter this reality through new resilience programming and by shifting resources and decision-making to Syrian relief groups inside Northwest Syria.