12-19-14 – UN’s Humanitarian Jolt Before Holidays

By John J. Metzler 

UNITED NATIONS–Set to the backdrop of regional wars and simmering ethnic conflicts, the UN relief agencies made an unprecedented appeal for wider funding to address the current chaos in a score of countries.   Valerie Amos, the UN’s emergency aid chief, stated candidly that the number of people affected by conflict “has reached record levels” for the post-WWII era.

Amos’ appeal calls for more that $16 billion in funding to address widening crises which affect more than 57 million people in 22 countries. The request reflects a devastating humanitarian landscape at the end of 2014 but foretells wider demands for 2015.

The number of 57 million people receiving aid would approximate the entire population of the United Kingdom. And, realistically the figure is likely understated.

While the majority of aid is focused on Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan there’s a need for widespread funding for the oft unseen horrors in Central African Republic, Somalia, and Ukraine.

The lion’s share of the assistance, just over $7 billion is for Syria, now entering its fifth year of conflict between an authoritarian central government and what has evolved into a gaggle of opposition groups, the majority of them being Al-Qaida or Islamic State (ISIS) affiliated.

Over 3 million Syrians have fled their country since the civil war erupted almost five years ago. Millions more are “internally displaced” inside their own land. The refugee spillover has challenged social structures and the economies of neighboring states such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The Syrian crisis has become regionally destabilizing.

Valerie Amos conceded, “Every year we ask our donors to do more…but as crises become more complex and go on longer, the gap between needs and resources grows.”

In a separate but equally grim assessment, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) warned that 2014 has been one of the worst on record for the world’s children. The Report states sadly that fifteen million children are caught up in violent conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director stated, “Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality.”

Case and point; Syria’s ongoing horrors affect the lives of seven million children, while the number is 2.7 million in Iraq and over two million in the Central African Republic. Those are among the more high profile cases. Then there’s Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur/Sudan and Somalia to list a few more places where the young are under assault by a swirl of violence.

So why may we ask is the world seeing such widening conflict? Again we must return to the often unspoken reality espoused by Prof. Samuel Huntington that the clash of cultural and civilizational fault-lines, rather than competing political ideologies, remain the root cause in the contemporary era.

Syria offers a sanguinary example. Syria’s complicated cultural and religious mosaic was originally beset by political conflict which soon morphed into both Inter-Islamic conflict between the ruling minority Shiite (Alewite) Muslims and the Sunni Muslim majority. The fight has now taken a yet more dangerous turn with Islamic jihadi extremists targeting both Muslims and Christians.

In Iraq it’s somewhat the same story with traditional inter-Islamic discord in this case pitting the Shiite majority government against the Sunni minority. Tensions were ramped up in June when the terrorist movement Islamic State (ISIS), nearly toppled the teetering and corrupt central government in Baghdad and then turned to target the ancient Christian communities, and the long-suffering Kurdish, and Yazidi minorities.

States, militia groups and terrorist movements are carrying out a dizzying array of crimes against humanity in a score of countries. While much of the violence is ethnic or tribally based, in other cases Islamic jihadi terrorists are the chief perpetuators. At best countries can hope for UN peacekeepers to stop the clock on violence but not necessarily solve the problem.

Significantly in both Syria and Iraq, there’s also a lack of clear and firm U.S. policy. Indeed the Obama administration’s fumbling foreign policies, linked with a crisis overload, has brought both an unfocused and ambivalent response to these countries descending into a humanitarian hell.


John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China (2014).


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