Human Interest Isn’t the Same Thing as Humanitarian Interests

Yesterday, we attended two discussions that highlighted how diplomacy could either advance humanitarian goals or interests in business and trade (Iraq). (Thank you to Brookings Foreign Policy for starting to follow PITAPOLICY on Twitter!) The first discussion emphasized how diplomacy has fallen short of addressing humanitarian needs (Syria).  One observer callously referred to America’s interest in Syria as “intense flirting”–almost like a human interest story.  The second discussion included remarks by the new Iraqi ambassador to the US, Lukman Faily, and will be posted next week.

Human interest isn’t the same thing as humanitarian interests.  Americans may view the Syria crisis as a civil war interrupted with threats of chemical weapons.  To this end, unfortunately, the humanitarian aspects have been overshadowed by the humans/actors playing center-stage regarding Syria’s doomed regime.  Many Americans hesitate to lend any type financial assistance to Syrian victims.  According to Beth Ferris of Brookings Institute, “1 out of 2 Americans contributed to Haiti, but Americans find it more difficult to give money to Syria conflict victim.”

Brookings Institute Scholars Share Report on Syria’s Humanitarian Conditions (Beth Ferris, Fellow @Brookings; Salman Shaikh, Director Saban Center of Brookings; Francois Stamm, International Committee on Red Cross)

Politics & Interests & Analysis: 



How do you separate humanitarian from security goals?

According to Stamm, who leads at the International Committee of the Red Cross:

  • “22 Syrian Arab Red Crescent staff have been killed while carrying out their duties.”
  • ICRC is also assisting to provide clean water in #Syria and so far its distribution hasn’t been politicized”.
  • “We took for granted that you do not shoot on ambulances… but regretfully this is not the case.”
  • 2 million refugees may be the lucky ones–compared to Internally Displaced Persons and those who can’t relocate. Agriculture, education, water all disrupted in #Syria
  • Opposition has yet to provide guarantees & access w/in #Syria. Explosion in number of deaths from chronic disease.

Ferris said that the number of physicians in Aleppo dropped from 2,000 to 35.  Aside from health crisis, “education has been dramatically affected. 20% of schools r not functioning,” to which we add: the statics doesn’t include those schools that have been bombed.

According to Shaikh:

  • Renting apartments and homes in Lebanon is more expensive because of the influx: Rents have increased by 200, 300, 400% in Beirut as Syrian #refugees flee Syria.
  •     thanks for helping avert “savage attack,” says Moscow creating “new global balance”.

Why the hesitancy to provide humanitarian aid in Syria? & How do u present & provide assistance to refugees w/o creating discontent among hosting communities, like Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey?

  • 1 out of 2 Americans contributed to Haiti but Americans find it more difficult to give money to Syria conflict victims, according to Ferris.
  • There are defacto areas (safe zones) but we need humanitarian corridors, nonetheless, “Obama needs to do a much better job of having a conversation with the people” referring to Obama’s address to Americans on Syria on September 12–the first time since the conflict began 30 months.
  • Shaikh praised many Gulf Cooperation Council countries on humanitarian front, but notes how this contributed to fragmentation & sectarianism
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“Evil does not have a particular convenient timing,” stated Shaikh, who implored BRICS nations (Brazil,Turkey, India, and South Africa) to step up to the plate to 1) exert pressure on Russia and China to stop holding up UN Security Council resolutions, and 2) commit financial resources and share in the burden of the humanitarian and refugee crises resulting from the Assad regime crumbling in Syria. Shaikh adds, ” The international community is responsible to give space for Syrians to reach consensus.”

Next week, Brookings Institute will hold a discussion on how Diaspora communities are dealing with the Syrian crisis and humanitarian challenges.  If you’re in Washington, DC, register here.


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