Our response to Ukraine should be the blueprint for all humanitarian crises

Our response to Ukraine should be the blueprint for all humanitarian crises

There’s one thing that rings true of every person I’ve met over the past 30 years working in the world’s toughest places.

Regardless of location or circumstance, people want the same things: a better future for themselves and their loved ones; peace, opportunity, and the ability to choose their future.

But to paraphrase George Orwell… all people are equal, yet some are more equal than others.

Sadly, this holds true today of global emergencies. 

I have been constantly reminded during my humanitarian and development work, across 100 countries, that we are not truly divided by culture, language, religion and ethnicity.  Rather, we are united by our hopes and dreams. 

The global movement over the Ukraine crisis has been amazing and faith-restoring. The inspiring stories of individuals who have donated so generously, risked their lives to deliver aid, and show up for those most in need, should be the blueprint for all humanitarian crises. 

While we celebrate the generosity of support for Ukraine, other desperately unfunded crises are losing even more support and are dropping off governments’ radars. 

Take Syria. Eleven years into the war, the humanitarian crisis is worse than ever. More than 13 million people have been affected. And 6.2 million people are internally displaced. The same number have fled the country as refugees. Almost all of these people are food insecure, children are out of school and subjected to horrific child abuse including early marriage. The level of deprivation, stress and desperation leads to women taking their own lives, rather than facing one more day.

The initial Ukraine humanitarian appeal was fully funded in record time – with enormous private funding to match. But the Syria appeal for 2021 was only 40 percent funded. Looking at it another way – this is 60 percent of urgent needs that cannot be met. Stomachs empty, water unavailable, schools unable to reopen. This doesn’t even scratch the surface. 

The protection sector is only 29 percent funded, meaning over 70 percent of the urgent work to prevent problems such as child abuse, child marriage, child labour, gender-based violence are paralysed.

In Afghanistan, 95 percent of the population is unable to get enough food to eat. This is the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. It’s primarily due to the worst drought in a decades, but is greatly exacerbated by economic downturn and sanctions. These are women and children who are powerless to find work or food.

There are 2 million children starving to death right now, through no fault of their own. The recent funding conference in March, where world governments convene annually to pledge their support in monetary terms for the humanitarian aid response in Syria, raised only 55 percent of what is urgently needed to stop people dying. The equivalent conference for Yemen held two weeks before had an even more dismal response of 30 percent.

Both of these conferences were held in the shadow of the Ukraine response and the incredible outpouring of funding. Ahead of the Syria pledging conference, World Vision dared to believe that things could turn out differently – and the wave of generosity for Ukraine would sweep over the people of Syria. It was better than last year; 64 percent of the ask was funded, with 75 percent coming from the EU alone. But this still leaves a 36 percent gap across even the most basic and urgent of needs: child hunger, healthcare, education and shelter. 

We can look at the statistics and feel overwhelmed but instead, we need to focus on individuals, and what connects us. Whenever I meet children from Syria and Afghanistan, there’s always a sense of great excitement at the new visitors. This is quickly followed by important questions from the boys: “Which city exactly we do all we come from?” They are asking, of course, to see if we hark from the homes of their favourite football teams –  Manchester, Barcelona, Munich. 

My appalling lack of football knowledge usually leads to an excited stream of facts they feel I must learn about the best players. The girls and boys also tell me about their plans to become doctors, teachers, engineers… before they go quiet. Reality dawns. With some coaxing they share how they now fear they will never fulfil their dreams.

They’ve been out of school for years. They have to work in dangerous jobs to bring food home to their families. Their parents are preparing for them to marry aged just 13. Every story breaks my heart. While our staff have done so much – and will not rest until every child has access to food, protection and a future – the reality is that the need far outstrips the resources. 

For Afghanistan and Yemen, people are dying right now from a lack of food. Are we really prepared to say that we can accept famine in 2022, when the dollars, and food, are available to stop this? Are we really prepared to stand back as women in Syria choose to take their own lives rather than live in hopelessness and destitution?

I am not. 

Let us make the response to the Ukraine crisis the standard for all responses, and ensure people with the same hopes, fears and dreams can fulfil them – rather than lose them. 

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