By Lara Kajs
Restricting entire cities and communities from receiving humanitarian aid has been a tactic used by the Syrian government as a way to hold its own citizens hostage and to cut them off from the rest of the world.
The besieged town of Madaya gained exposure in early 2016 when it was cut off from all humanitarian aid for more than six months leaving many of the city’s residents to starve to death. Now, thousands of innocent civilians are in desperate need of life-saving aid in Darayya, a city that has not received aid in nearly three years.
For the past month, the United Nations has tried to appeal to the Syrian government to allow aid into Darayya. Government forces continue to block convoys from reaching areas under siege to deliver much needed food and supplies. The decision by Assad to refuse the aid, especially after he agreed to allow groups such as the World Food Programme and the Red Cross in, has left many to conclude that he has no intention of helping millions of Syrians trapped inside the country due to the civil conflict, now in its fifth year.
One way to circumvent the Assad regime and get supplies to the population is via airdrop, which has been viewed as a last resort due to the cost, danger involved in flying over a country engaged in conflict and the inability to ensure that the aid goes to the people it is designated for.
If this sounds like the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 – it is anything but. The Berlin Airlift was a highly organized mission consisting of combined efforts of the U.S., British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African air support and included making more than 200,000 flights and delivering nearly 9,000 tons of supplies on a daily basis. Add to this the fact that the Soviet Union did not interfere with the airlift because they did not want to risk conflict with the participants.
In the case of Syria, airdrops usually involve dropping supplies from a higher altitude to avoid being shot down, which increases the chance for inconsistency. Unlike the Soviet Union’s willingness to go along with the Berlin Airlift, Assad has flat out refused to cooperate increasing the risks. The UN carried out the first airdrop in the city of Deir al-Zor. Conflicting reports indicated that the people in need did not receive the supplies and it was never determined if the supplies landed in the wrong hands.
Everyone agrees that the preferred and most effective method for delivering life-saving humanitarian aid is via ground support. A ground convoy was set to deliver food and medical supplies to Darayya on 12 May, however government forces removed everything from the trucks except vaccines. The reason given for the removal of food - ‘it was not on the list of approved items.’ After the convoy was turned away, the Syrian military launched a mortar attack on the civilian population gathered to receive supplies, killing two and wounding five.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, more than 400,000 have been killed and at least half of the pre-war population of 23 million has been displaced due to the conflict.
The UN had planned to begin airdropping aid to several besieged towns in Syria on 1 June, but has since determined that it would be too dangerous without Syrian government support.
Featured Image: Targeted by government forces, the besieged town of Darayya, near Damascus has been denied access to humanitarian aid for nearly three years. Photo: Stringer/Reuters