The U.S has spent a total of $6 billion in Syria as of 2016. The need for this assistance is extensive. USAID estimated that there are 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria. However, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria diverts foreign aid from those who need it. He uses it for political goals.
Every day, Russian aircraft drop tons of food in the government-controlled neighborhood of Deir Ezzor. This has saved the lives of countless Syrians in the city. However, in towns controlled by the opposition, countless Syrians starve. Through the use of systematic regulations, President Assad diverts foreign aid from those in need. He then uses foreign aid as a political tool to increase his authority. Syrian expert Joshua Landis said that the Syrian government needs to manipulate foreign aid because “food is loyalty.”
The U.N. admits that it can only work with a small number of partners approved by Assad. Assad’s wife and close friend run two of these partnerships. Other humanitarian relief contracts are awarded to individuals under sanction and members of the Syrian regime known for their brutality and oppression. This is because the Syrian relief effort is the most challenging and complex operation the U.N. has ever seen. This gives Assad more bargaining power. He diverts foreign aid only to areas he controls. He only allows the U.N. into the country without interference if they play by his rules.
Moreover, a Russian airliner company, Abakan Air, carries out the aid transportation. Two Russian nationals, Nikolai Ustimenko and his son Patel, own the company. Both have previously been barred from doing business with the U.N. on account of bribery. It is unclear to what extent they play in Assad’s distribution of foreign aid.
It wasn’t always this way. Initially, the U.N. and Syrian Red Cross delivered aid impartially to the Syrian people. However, as the world turned its attention elsewhere, the Syrian government began blocking aid deliveries to rebel-controlled towns.
Advocates of the foreign aid program point to the amount of good aid have done in the region. Even through the aid only affects certain areas, civilians in need are still being fed. They say it would be unfair to punish those civilians in desperate need by withdrawing aid.
The USAID and UNICEF have done well to give aid. However, it is not good enough. The fact that Assad diverts foreign aid must be addressed. People are starving in Syria and aid needs to be distributed equally.
– Bruce Truax