At the end of last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that shortages of medicines, food, and other basic supplies mean that the coronavirus pandemic is apt to have a “catastrophic impact” on the northeastern portion of Syria. But the WHO has largely ceased its operations in the area since the beginning of this year, caving to pressure from Bashar al-Assad’s government and from his most important ally, Russia. The UN too has ended its policy of funneling funds to private charities there, now only supporting those groups approved by Damascus. Seth Frantzman comments:
The way the UN works makes it so that no one who is not loyal to the Syrian regime receives aid in Syria. For instance, the UN’s World Food Program conducted air drops to the Syrian-regime-held city off Deir Ezzor when it was under siege by Islamic State between 2015 and 2017. . . . But there were no UN-supported air drops for people in the cities of Raqqa, Qamishli, Kobane, or Idlib, or in refugee camps or areas outside Syrian regime control.
[Now] the Syrian regime [has] a veto over aid to eastern Syria and a way to use it as a weapon. Turkey and Russia collaborated in the effort, as Turkey turns off water to 460,000 people in eastern Syria, and Russia supports the Syrian regime. [In] eastern Syria, an area of millions of people who are recovering from Islamic State’s atrocities, . . . the WHO also works through the Syrian regime rather than providing equal access to people [in need]. The pandemic has only made matters worse.
The larger context is that Russia, Iran, and Turkey want the U.S. to leave eastern Syria.
By making life more difficult in areas where there remains an American military presence, Frantzman concludes, these countries are hoping they can force Washington’s hand.