The excerpts below, of an article on the current state of Syria, and the lack any effective action by the international community, by UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres, is the bleakest depiction of the crisis I have come across so far. The despair in his words can almost be heard…
Unfortunately, I or many others, are not the people to call for a resolution, or for some darned action in the multipolar world of the Security Council. With a major in diplomacy, I understand the selfish nature of national governments, which makes the situation even more unlikely to settle.
More than half the population of Syria is likely to be in need of aid by the end of the year, the UN high commissioner for refugees has warned, while labelling the ever-worsening crisis as the most serious the global body has dealt with.
António Guterres, who has led the UNHCR through the worst of the refugee crises in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the Syrian civil war was more brutal and destructive than both and was already the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war.
Guterres goes further, warning that the modern boundaries of the Middle East and the post-Ottoman agreements that underpin them may unravel if the crisis is not brought to an end.
“The political geography of the modern Middle East emerged from the Sykes-Picot agreement with the exception of the never-resolved Israeli-Palestinian situation,” he said of the Anglo-French deal at the end of the first world war that eventually formed the nation states of Syria and Lebanon. “The conflict in Syria might for the first time put that political geography into question.”
Diplomacy on Syria has failed to bridge a yawning divide in views on what has fuelled the crisis and how best to deal with it. Russia and China, two permanent members of the security council, have blocked moves towards more robust support of the opposition in Syria. The US and Europe have attempted to impose ever tougher sanctions on the Assad regime, but have balked at arming the opposition because of concerns about the influence of al-Qaida groups.
“I lived in a bipolar world,” said Guterres. “Until the war in Iraq, I witnessed a unipolar world with one single superpower. Now we are in a clearly established multi-polar world. New actors have emerged – the Brics: China, Russia, Brazil, India. There is no longer a clear set of power relations. There is no way to bring about consensus among global players, or to bring about common action. There is no capacity to produce any solution.”
UN appeals for aid to Syria remain desperately under-funded with some agencies, including Unicef, reporting a shortfall of more than 70%. The crisis was eased somewhat on Thursday when Kuwait transferred $300m (£196m) to the UN for Syrian relief. “[It] will be distributed across all of our institutions,” said Guterres. Kuwait is the only Gulf country that has honoured its promise through the multilateral aid organisations.
“We can now put some money up front in Syria, but we are all in big trouble. Most of the western countries have huge budget difficulties. Moving towards 3 million refugees, there is no way that this can be dealt with.
“The system is at breaking point. There is limited capacity to take many more. Where are the people going to flee? Into the sea?”