Is it time for a longer term response in Syria?

A child in a makeshift home at a camp for Syrian refugees in central Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. The U.K. announced that a part of aid pledged to help Syrian refugees will be used to repair infrastructure, provide teacher training, and improve primary health care centers in their country. Photo by: Pekka Tiainen / ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

Justine Greening visited Lebanon on Tuesday to announce another kind of British aid response to the Syrian crisis — she said needs are now a little different, with most refugees living with and among host communities.

Many aid organizations Devex has spoken to before have underlined the importance of assisting host communities, who have to share scant resources with Syrian refugees who could potentially reach one million by the end of the year. One way is through food vouchers, a scheme with its own challenges but at least helping provide small Lebanese shopowners a way to earn a living.

The U.K. Secretary of State for International Development announced assistance is set to address this need: A percentage of the 50 million pounds  which is part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s 178 million pound pledge last month  is expected to be spent on repairing buildings and water and sewage infrastructure, providing teacher training and helping improve primary health care centers, rather than on blankets or medical supplies.

Greening said: “I pay tribute to the generosity of the Lebanese people but this is now a crisis for the region, not just for Syria, and we have got to deal with that reality.”

No shift in aid policy yet

While much of the pledge remains focused on immediate, lifesaving assistance, using part of it for longer term initiatives could be a first in donor response for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Lynne Miller, World Food Program emergency coordinator and head of office in Lebanon, told Devex aid response is not yet quite at that stage in Lebanon: “At the moment, there hasn’t been a shift from humanitarian to longer term assistance. I think everybody’s aware that we’ve had to have a more sustainable humanitarian assistance in place … I think they are only beginning to look at how to deal with government capacity to have stronger social systems in place in terms of, say, health and education.”

WFP’s work is focused on providing food assistance via the food voucher program or food parcels to refugees awaiting registration. Miller admits they are “still looking at how we can support livelihood for longer term plans,” but she identified refugee access to land and agriculture, and building the capacity of government health services as potential areas for longer-term assistance.

For World Vision, meanwhile, education is the big priority.

“Classrooms have doubled in size. Lebanese childreen are being sent home at lunch time to make way for refugees. We understand the reasons for that, but children are missing out on education,” World Vision U.K. spokesman Chris Weeks told Devex.

The organization welcomes the United Kingdom’s decision to focus part of its aid toward longer term response. While there remains a huge need for immediate lifesaving assistance, Weeks said it is important to address both short and long-term needs “alongside each other.”

Donor coordination

Just like in Syria, donor coordination is also a concern among organizations responding to the crisis in Lebanon.

World Vision’s Mike Bailey previously told Devex: “We hope to see donors better coordinate between themselves to minimize differences in what is required of partners, and respond flexibly to the situation on the ground, so partners can respond as efficiently and effectively as possible.” 

Just this July, the United Kingdom hosted a meeting of U.N. agencies and donors to better coordinate their response to the crisis. Greening said the meeting ”gave us the opportunity to assess the practical challenges but also the opportunities to improve our work to help the innocent people caught up in this terrible crisis.”

But how or when that discussion will roll on the ground remains to be seen.

“I think the size of the needs is so huge. The needs are so great that we’re not yet seeing any [donor] coordination,” Miller said, noting however that on the food aid side, donors are coordinating fairly well.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.