NEW YORK (Arab News) –
Although to outside observers the Middle East might appear to be experiencing a period of renewed, active diplomacy, including a host of new peace initiatives, “our teams on the ground see no difference,” according to Fabrizio Carboni, regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross for Near and Middle East.
During a virtual briefing in New York, he painted a bleak picture of a region that continues to struggle with protracted conflicts, collapsing economies and dire financial predicaments, on top of efforts to battle a COVID-19 pandemic that continues to rage amid vaccine scarcity in many countries. Only 5 percent of Syrians have had their first dose of a vaccine, and 2 percent of Yemenis, for example.
This amid “donor fatigue,” said Carboni, as conflicts proliferate elsewhere in the world, including Afghanistan and Ethiopia, and donor nations divert resources that would previously have gone to help people in the Middle East.
“For the time being, we are $8 million short of what we need for a full slate of humanitarian activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Carboni said, by way of an example.
“In Iraq, we are short of $20 million. And even if these countries are not in the top headlines on a daily basis, the families (there) continue to suffer and need massive help.”
Adding to the difficulty of funding humanitarian work in some parts of the region is the fact that “we are moving from true emergency, like distributing food, to another phase — let’s call it ‘early recovery’ — where we need to work on systems to allow people to be autonomous and get back on their feet. And this is a more complex activity to finance and it costs a lot because of the size of the destruction.”
The destruction caused by a decade of foreign-backed conflict in Syria is reminiscent of that caused in Europe during the Second World War, according to Carboni.
“Every time I go back to Syria I always have the feeling that the conflict ended the day before,” he said. “There is this permanent state of ‘Year Zero’ and it’s really heartbreaking.
Turning to the COVID-19 crisis, Carboni said that while the pandemic is the major threat facing the West, it is just one additional layer of vulnerability in places such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, where people are trying to cope simultaneously with multiple crises.