GCC states must shift Syria aid focus to prepare for long-term

More needs to be done to bridge the gap between emergency relief and development aid, according to Save the Children

GCC states must shift their funding focus from emergency to long-term development aid for children caught within regional conflicts, the Gulf head of a global children’s charity said.

Money from Gulf countries underpins much of the humanitarian activity in the region, including in Syria and Palestine. But more needs to be done to bridge the gap between emergency relief and development aid, said Soha Ellaithy, senior director of Save the Children’s GCC office.

“The issue is how we can make this sustainable,” Ellaithy told Philanthropy Age. “How communities can not just recover from conflict, but also how they can rebuild their lives for the long term. The challenge is to ensure that this aid merges into sustainable development projects that will be there for the next 10, 20 years.”

The fallout from Syria, in particular, has drawn a generous emergency response from the region. Kuwait hosted two international aid conferences for Syria, the second netting $2.3bn in commitments, with a third due at the end of this month. The Gulf state opened the 2014 conference with a pledge of $500m.

Still, long-term programming is now needed to get children back into school. There are some 2.8 million out-of-school children in Syria, the second worst rate of school attendance in the world, and overall enrolment has halved from pre-crisis levels of near 100 per cent. In the Syrian city of Aleppo, school enrolment is a woeful 6 per cent, according to Save the Children.

The children’s charity will also focus its efforts this year on boosting access to healthcare, including addressing rising malnutrition and stunting rates. A particularly often-overlooked area is psychosocial support for traumatised minors, according to Ellaithy. Half of the children surveyed in northern Syria by the NGO were 'rarely’ or ‘never’ able to concentrate in class.

In a separate survey by the organisation, fully 38 per cent of school children were unable to cope with the stress of their environment. “You can bring children to school and give them medication, but if their emotional wellbeing has been severely affected then they can’t reach their full potential,” said Ellaithy. “This is really the ultimate goal: to ensure children fulfil their potential.”

It is not just in Syria that help is needed. “The region has become plagued by conflict in the last four years,” Ellaithy said. “Syria is such a big crisis, we tend to forget there are other chronic problems going on, such as Gaza.”

The war-torn territory faces a host of challenges, including access to building materials to drive reconstruction efforts, a lack of medical equipment and contamination of the water table, all exacerbated by the latest 50-day conflict with Israel last year.

The children’s charity is looking for partners in the region to help it step up long-term support. The international NGO already partners with local foundation Dubai Cares and Qatar’s Educate A Child, among others in the region, to fund education initiatives, and the UAE’s Salam Ya Seghar to boost children’s access to healthcare in Gaza.

Photo credit: Save the Children