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The human toll of the Syria crisis must be addressed long term

Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, January 14, 2014

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A Syrian family arrives at a transit center in Jordan just after 4 a.m. to register as refugees. They are a few of the 700 refugees who arrived that day. Approximately 2.5 million Syrians have fled for safety in neighboring countries, and the U.N. estimates the number to increase to 4 million by year's end. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

As the conflict in Syria approaches the three-year mark in March, a staggering one-third of the country’s population has been affected by the conflict. Approximately 2.5 million people have fled the country and another 6.5 million are displaced internally — and those numbers only continue to increase.

The U.N. estimates that more than half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million is expected to have fled or be in need of aid by the end of 2014.

Given the protracted nature of the conflict, traditional short-term emergency relief, by itself representing only a temporary solution, is insufficient for the massive number of families who are in desperate need of sustained assistance and facing an uncertain future.

And host communities in neighboring countries, with already-limited resources, are struggling to support the influx of refugees who leave Syria on a daily basis.

Review of Syrian crisis response critical at international assemblies

As global leaders convene this week to examine this crisis at a donor meeting in Kuwait — and with peace talks set to begin in Geneva next week — Mercy Corps is urging the international community to chart a new course and develop an integrated strategy focused on longer-term needs for the region, in addition to the equally important emergency assistance.

Mercy Corps’ CEO Neal Keny-Guyer will be at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week meeting with world leaders and other actors to ensure the humanitarian implications of Syria’s war are front and center.

As the crisis approaches its third anniversary, the Middle East region is being dramatically altered. One in four people living in Lebanon, for example, is now a Syrian refugee while Jordan’s scarce natural and financial resources are being equally taxed. We must help.

To meet the needs of the growing numbers of refugees and host communities, it is imperative we offer them the support they need to withstand the pressure of this ongoing disaster.

Mercy Corps recognizes need for long-term support strategies

Mercy Corps has shifted our response strategy to meet evolving needs. In addition to addressing the essentials — food, water, shelter and clothing — we are also launching longer-term initiatives in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, where we have been working with communities since before the start of this crisis.

These initiatives are tailored to the individual needs of host communities in those countries. Because one solution will not work for every community, we work with each area independently to identify problems and form solutions that best serve its need.

We are working with host communities on identifying employment options for refugees facing an indefinite period of displacement, and teaching refugees job skills they can use to rebuild their lives once that is possible.

We are working with local officials to expand water, sanitation and infrastructure services, like housing, to meet the needs of host communities’ escalating populations.

And a cornerstone to our refugee response is conflict mediation training and community engagement, which helps refugees better integrate into their host communities and decrease tensions that are escalating as services, jobs and housing become increasingly scarce.

Through this facet of our programming, refugees and host communities learn how to communicate effectively, manage conflict between parties and become active participants in developing solutions that meet their communities’ needs.

As this crisis drags on, it is having a profound impact on all Syrians, most especially youth. An entire generation is growing up exposed to daily violence, and being uprooted from their homes and pulled out of school at the time when they are most impressionable. We cannot let these children lose their futures — their continued development is one of our top priorities.

Children and adolescents receive emotional counseling and life skills training in topics like conflict mediation and job preparation. They also participate in project planning, allowing them to play a productive role in their host communities and prepare for a future when they can return to — and rebuild — Syria.

Mercy Corps asks global community to reshape crisis response

As we look ahead in our response to the Syrian refugee crisis, we are urging world leaders to find ways to spend precious resources smarter and more efficiently. It is vital that the global community — aid organizations and national governments participating in coordinated regional response efforts — better align their strategies to match the scope of this crisis.

“Three years on, the international community is still funding the Syria crisis with short-term fixes,” says Neal Keny-Guyer, chief executive officer of Mercy Corps. “We need new approaches that meet today’s needs while keeping an eye on building the long-term resilience of communities — that is, helping them better cope, adapt and rebound from this devastating crisis.”

We regularly share our recommendations with Congress, including most recently with a January 6, 2014 Senate hearing on the Syrian refugee crisis. Read the written testimony ▸

Our recommendations to UN agencies, US and European lawmakers and the donor community include:

  • Move away from short-term fixes and combine emergency relief and long-term development efforts in host countries.

  • Build the ability of communities to learn, cope, adapt and transform in the midst of the crisis by buttressing local institutions and building cross-community partnerships.

  • Give refugees and host communities a greater say in programming priorities and implementation, and integrate their voices in national-level planning processes.

The Mercy Corps policy paper, “Charting a New Course: Re-thinking the Syrian Refugee Response,” outlines the growing scope of this humanitarian catastrophe and our recommendations for how the international community can improve its response strategies to better address the needs of millions affected by this conflict. Read the full report ▸

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