Project: International Security Department

Academy Associate

While it will doubtless be expensive to overhaul the UN's coordination structure and mechanisms, it could ultimately cost less than maintaining the current dysfunctional system. 

A Syrian refugee youth walks in an alley at an unofficial refugee camp in the village of Deir Zannoun in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, 31 January 2017. Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images.A Syrian refugee youth at an unofficial refugee camp in the village of Deir Zannoun in Lebanon, 31 January 2017. Photo: Getty Images.

Summary

  • The politicization of humanitarian funding in response to the Syrian conflict has had a negative impact on coordination between the major international humanitarian actors. For their part, UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations appear more focused on winning big contracts than drawing up and implementing effective strategies to coordinate the humanitarian response to the Syrian conflict and its consequences in Lebanon.
  • There is a consensus among international humanitarian actors that coordination is necessary among the different organizations providing assistance. However, the understanding of what coordination entails and the extent to which it should be prioritized varies significantly from organization to organization.
  • A recent study by the Local to Global Protection (L2GP) Initiative shows that while Syrian humanitarian actors were responsible for delivering 75 per cent of humanitarian assistance in Syria in 2014, they received just 0.3 per cent of direct cash funding and only 9.3 per cent of indirect cash funding available for the overall Syria response.
  • The ongoing exclusion of Syrian actors in the humanitarian response and coordination structure in Lebanon contravenes the values of the international humanitarian system. In short, it impedes a more principled humanitarian response. The legal status of Syrian humanitarian actors, organizations and individuals in Lebanon is another factor that affects the inclusion of Syrian actors in the UN coordination process there.
  • The legacy of tension and power struggles among UN agencies, on the one hand, and between UN agencies and external international organizations, on the other, hinders coordination. Internal dynamics and the double or even triple hatting of some agencies has further exacerbated that struggle and made coordination more difficult still.
  • Ad hoc and short-term funding is yet another factor preventing effective coordination and strategic planning by international actors. Not least, it means there is neither the time nor capacity to avoid the overlapping of responsibilities, the duplication of work and ineffective planning.
  • Syria is seen as a vacuum when it comes to credible information. Sensitivity about sharing information – and the security rationale for not doing so – is understandable. However, information has become a commodity and an integral part of the power game between the various international actors.
  • Double standards in the international humanitarian community discriminate between international and Syrian organizations – and not just in terms of funding. Syrian organizations face strict examination when funders determine their neutrality or impartiality; but UN agencies and international organizations are not subject to the same levels of due diligence.
  • The issue of reforming the UN’s coordination structure must be revisited and the renewed debate based on reliable cost-benefit analysis. If the costs of the current coordination structure and mechanisms outweigh the benefits, then admitting those failures could help the UN save face.