In a breaking news story dated on Sept. 25, 2015, there were comments made by the Vice President of Mercy Corps, Andrea Koppel, regarding the ineffective disaster relief methods of the United Nations (U.N.). Koppel criticized their outdated systems when she stated, “We are at a crossroads with the traditional aid system,” and she went on to say, “It is crucial for the primarily small group of countries’ funding relief efforts to realize… that the status quo is not cutting it.” The statement is an obvious plea for U.N. leadership to eliminate programs and systems that are not conducive to meeting today’s challenges. Furthermore, Koppel’s statement serves as the start of a dialogue to replace what is not working with proven strategies that can be easily replicated. However, the current leadership of the United Nations may not have the vision to see how the required changes could lead to a better approach to disaster relief.
The Mercy Corps is a disaster relief agency operating in 40 countries and based in Portland, Oregon. The organization has been involved in disaster relief for several years while working with agencies, such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Koppel has visited the Syrian region and has seen firsthand the devastation as well as suffering among the war-ravaged people. She has also met with families affected by the civil war and received their gratitude for the aid, yet she admits to lacking any sense of accomplishment, despite the kind words from her host.
The problem with the U.N. may not be as easy to point out, as it is to see the deterioration of the institution’s effectiveness in terms of aid and disaster relief. The detailed inadequacies of the organization are included in a 58-page analysis, in which Mercy Corps reveals, “The existing humanitarian system is too centralized, top down, and U.N. focused.” Furthermore, particularly in the fragile states, “the existing system is unsustainable – both overstretched and underfunded.” In addition to internal conflicts in regions such as Syria, there are constant threats due to Islamic savagery and other volatile enemies. Although it is illegal to do so, the Assad regime has stopped a large majority of the U.N. aid caravans that have attempted to reach those in the hardest hit areas. This is another point argued by Koppel when she said, “We need a system that is more cost-effective, less bureaucratic, and more nimble…”
The United Nations as a whole may lack the vision to see the future, however, the U.N. Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, warned donors at an aid conference in Kuwait that, “We are at a tipping point,” he said, “It is clear that the world’s response to the crisis in Syria cannot be business as usual.” This drastic statement requires a proper response, however, it is unfortunate to report that the U.N. has responded with the same rhetoric and appeals for monetary aid. The U.S. alone has pledged over $4 billion in aid to Syria and the troubled region. Nonetheless, how can the Obama Administration justify continuing to pledge U.S. support without any sign of a resolution, knowing that the Assad Regime not only controls how the aid is disbursed but has blocked 30 of the 33 U.N. aid convoys going into the most war-torn areas of Syria? While many wonder why aid continues to be disbursed to the corrupt region, the response is to blame the U.N.
The first Charter of the United Nations was signed on June 26, 1945, with a simple purpose based on common goals in the post-WWII era. Those who were present agreed to reaffirm fundamental human rights as well as equality of men, women, and nations. The lines of battle are clear when one nation rises against another, however, when the battle is within the same country as in a civil war, what section of the U.N. Charter offers the definitive solution? Perhaps an amendment to the charter is required.
The status quo is no longer a viable option for disaster relief, however, the United Nations continues to regress to a system that is not working, conceivably resulting from a lack of vision and the inability to see the future. The U.S. and other countries involved in the Syrian relief efforts should take a stand. It is time to hold the United Nations accountable for the billions of dollars given, regardless of where the funds have been applied. In the 21st Century, it is unfortunate that accountability has taken a back seat. However, by its own charter, the United Nations must answer to its members, be held accountable for its failings, and amend the current charter to reflect effective means to reach a lasting solution.
Opinion by Jireh Gibson
Edited by Leigh Haugh
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