Science - April 15, 2013

Why fundraising for Syria is slow

Fundraising for victims of the war in Syria is not getting off the ground in the Netherlands. Last week the Dutch had only transferred 1.2 million euros to Giro 555, the account number for aid organizations. That is logical, says Thea Hilhorst, professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction. Donors do not like conflict, especially if it is not clear exactly who the good guys are.

‘We donate money for the victims of natural disasters because the people affected by them cannot do anything about it. But we are not so ready to donate for the victims of conflict. Conflicts put people off. Although there are exceptions. The fundraising campaign for refugees from Kosovo in 1999 delivered more than 30 million. But the distinction between the good guys and the bad guys was very clear in that case, seen from the Netherlands at least. In Syria that is less clear. You have a bad regime that murders and drives out the people, but on the other side there is a motley collection of rebels, including radical Muslims. The image of good and evil is less clear.’
Where is the aid going to?
‘The aid organizations support the refugee camps around Syria and aid comes into the country through the capital, Damascus. I am worried that the people in the war areas are not being reached. As long as the border is open, you can easily enter the country from Turkey or Lebanon. I do not understand why the aid organizations do not carry out more ‘cross-border’ operations and deliver aid directly to the conflict areas.’
Is that safe, then?
‘There are aid organizations that work cross-border. Doctors without Borders is working courageously and have set up small hospitals in caves on Syrian soil. And so is the International Rescue Committee, an American organization that delivers emergency aid.
So for the time being they have to do without much Dutch support?
‘Yes. It is terrible, what is happening in Syria but here in the Netherlands we do not have a clear picture of the tragedy of it. To raise funds for an emergency you need a powerful story and images. The news about Syria comes trickling in – so the money trickles in too.’

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