Gas masks? People are starving — Syrian NGO

Syrian families take shelter in makeshift houses around the Bekaa valley of Zahle, Lebanon. NGOs working on the ground in Syria stress that food supply is more urgent than sending out expensive gas masks. Photo by: Pekka Tiainen/ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday authorized distributing special equipment to neutralize chemical weapons in Syria, where the threat of a U.S. military intervention to crush the al-Assad regime seems to be dying down.

The order allows for instance gas masks and other expensive protective gear to be immediately dispatched to international organizations, Syrian opposition forces and U.S. government contractors and agencies, according to U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

But at least one of the several agencies consulted by Devex is not only unaware of the offer but even dismissed the aid, saying there are now more urgent needs for the Syrian people.

“Well, it’s not going to affect our operations. But I believe that the issue has already been used. The focus is already on the people killed in that attack,” Syrian Arab Red Crescent head of operations Khaled Erksoussi told Devex.

He added: “The chemical attack was done and finished with. … Now they are dealing with it politically.”

More urgent needs

Erksoussi reminded the U.S. government that there are many people in Syria that did not suffer the chemical attack, but have less and less food, bad living conditions, and nowhere to go.

“At the end, we are looking to help the vulnerable people. The people who died already, I don’t think we can help them anymore,” he commented on the same day that U.N. inspectors finally announced they had found compelling evidence that chemical weapons were in fact used on an Aug. 21 attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb which the Unites States claims killed 1,400 people.

Asked if he would use the special equipment if made available, Erkoussi said “of course, if there is a need,” but stressed he would not spend $10 million in much-needed funds on masks and noted that would “a waste of money.”

“People are dying from hunger … We don’t believe [the chemical attacks] will happen again. [The United States] made sure it will not happen again, thank you, but let’s not waste more money about it.”

Jenny Lei Ravelo contributed reporting

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About the author

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    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.