The United Nations has many warts, and it has a well-earned reputation for ineffectiveness, but those truths should not cast a shadow on the good that some U.N. agencies do.
For example, the work of U.N. employees and volunteers in Syria is heroic. Just read the recent report issued by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Titled “Protecting and Supporting the Displaced in Syria: UNHCR Syria end-of-year report 2015,” the report is a painful-to-read description of a latter-day exodus worthy of Biblical scale, and it is an account that includes the heroic work of many individuals who care about their fellow humans.
When you read the report and start thinking of individuals in place of numbers, you may experience what I did: a sickening feeling. I have to admit that I also felt anger, and even hopelessness, because in 2016, I told myself, this should not be happening.
UNHCR said there are 13.5 million of our brothers and sisters who need humanitarian assistance as a result of the Syrian War.
Let that sink in.
Let it sink in some more.
There are 6.5 million internally displaced persons (people who have lost housing in a country but remain in that country), with 1.7 million individuals living in camps and collective centers, according to the U.N. agency.
The agency said approximately 4.2 million individuals are refugees; 4.5 million individuals are in need of assistance in hard-to-reach areas; 11 million individuals require health assistance; 2.4 million individuals lack adequate shelter; 1.2 million housing units have been damaged and 400,000 destroyed; 5.7 million children and adolescents are in need of educational assistance; 8.7 million individuals are in need of food assistance; and more than 250,000 individuals are dead.
The UNHCR said 58 percent of Syrian public hospitals and 49 percent of public-health centers are either partially functional or closed.
“Since the onset of the crisis, the average life expectancy has fallen by 20 years,” according to UNHCR.
Now you can see why I described this human-made cataclysm as Biblical in scale.
The heroes risking their lives face what at times must seem like insurmountable problems. They include: insecurity, attacks on UN staff, threatening and unpredictable armed groups, sophisticated weaponry used by all belligerents, indiscriminate attacks, outflow of skilled professionals, violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, bureaucratic hurdles impeding access and delivery, and a decline in funding affecting the agency’s ability to respond to individuals in need.
UNHCR said its 2016 strategy includes key elements to reach the people in need.
“In 2016,” it said, “UNHCR will continue to consolidate its presence, already enhanced in 2015, through its six field offices in the country, the deployment of staff and the increased number of partnerships with national and international organizations.”
It will also attempt to bring more assistance to more people, as well as upgrading shelters.
Health care remains a challenge.
“The physical damage of health facilities and the strain on those after being left intact as well as the lack of highly qualified and experienced health staff have seriously affected the availability and the quality of primary health care and emergency services in the country,” the agency noted. “UNHCR will continue ensuring a free-of-charge comprehensive package of quality primary health care services for 30,000 refugees and 450,000 IDPs through 17 clinics in seven governorates.”
More refugees are anticipated.
“In spite of the current crisis in Syria, UNHCR continues to receive asylum-seekers requesting UNHCR’s protection and assistance,” the agency stated. “In 2016, UNHCR will continue to support refugees and asylum seekers in meeting their basic needs through its cash assistance program, ensuring an adequate supply of food, support for rents and other domestic needs, access to education for children and additional help for the winter season.”
These dedicated servants of humanity deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Their actions speak louder than their words.