Toby Ash (UK) is an experienced ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member currently responding to the Syria crisis. Nine months after his first deployment to the region, he has returned to find the need for humanitarian assistance greater than ever.
In June last year, I deployed as an SRT member in the Syrian crisis. Nine months later and I am back in the region. The complex political situation in the country we are in remains, so we are still having to work ‘below the radar’, unable to reveal where we are operating from.
Since my last visit, the security situation inside Syria has worsened dramatically and it is now virtually impossible for foreign aid workers to operate directly inside the country. It has also prevented most journalists from reporting there. So, paradoxically, while Syria is the biggest humanitarian disaster in the world today, there is relatively little media coverage given over to it as there are so few reporters on the ground to tell the grim story.
Working in partnership
Despite the huge challenges, ShelterBox is continuing to respond to the crisis. We are currently working in or through four different countries, assisting either the 2.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled the country or channeling aid to 6.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) left inside who are often too poor and desperate to be able to escape.
The team on the ground here is currently working with local and international partners to facilitate the distribution inside Syria of a shipment of 400 tents and 2,400 blankets that is arriving imminently from the UK. Our task is to ensure that they are distributed to those most in need as quickly as possible.
High tech solutions
Over the last 18 months we have been working with trusted and proven local and international partners who are enabling us to get our much needed aid into Syria. We are able to utilise their comprehensive networks inside the country to both assess the humanitarian need on an ongoing basis and to ensure that all our aid is distributed equitably and solely on the basis of need.
Yesterday we spent the afternoon looking at extraordinarily detailed satellite imagery and mapping of the hundreds of IDP camps on the other side of the border close to where we are based and were able to identify the ones where ShelterBox aid could be of the most use. Some of these camps are small, containing about 50 families, others contain many thousands, all of whom have fled the fighting with little more than the clothes they are standing in. With the civil war grinding relentlessly on, the number of camps and their size are growing by the day.
‘We have seen many images taken from the camps, and it is clear that the majority of people in them do not have adequate shelter,’ says SRT member Anne Seuren. ‘People are making do with whatever structures that are available to them. Life is even returning to an old Roman settlement that was on the tourist map just a few years ago. If I hadn’t seen the images myself, I would never have believed that this former tourist destination is the only shelter these people can find against the elements.’
Robust distribution plans
We are also working closely with the individuals who are managing these camps and will be responsible for distributing the ShelterBox tents and blankets on our behalf. We are not just sending aid over the border in the hope it will get to those in need – we have put a robust plan in place to ensure that it does. Having already identified the camps in most need of shelter, we will be sent the name and size of the families who will be receiving our assistance. Videos and photographs will also be taken so we have a clear record of who received what, where they are, and when they received it. Where ShelterBox tents are grouped together in large numbers, we will even be able to use satellite imagery to check their location and ongoing use.
The Syrian crisis is complex and bloody with no end in sight. But ShelterBox is able to make a real difference on the ground. We have developed strong partnerships with those able to operate on our behalf in the country, and through careful distribution management and the increasing use of technology, we are able to effectively identify and reach the most desperate.
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