After being repeatedly postponed, a date has finally been set for the long hoped-for talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria. That’s good news, but steps must be taken to make those talks possible and fruitful.
Scheduled to begin in Geneva on January 22, the talks are expected to bring together for the first time officials from Bashar Al Assad’s regime and members of the Syrian opposition to discuss a political transition. The meeting is surely a “huge opportunity”, as Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy to Syria, has put it, but the challenges are even more mighty.
Syria is on the verge of collapse, with disastrous humanitarian consequences. According to a recent UN estimate, the number of Syrians reliant on foreign aid has risen to 9.3 million, from 6.8 million in June. That includes 6.5 million people displaced inside the country, up from 4.25 million. Another 2.2 million people have fled the country, with that number expected to rise to 3 million by the end of this year.
January is still a long way off, and there is possibility the meeting will be delayed further. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis will worsen, unless efforts are made by the international community to tackle the situation.
The hundreds of thousands of men, people who now need much more than aid cannot wait for the Geneva conference to make their voices heard. Each day that passes without a peaceful resolution will displace more people from their homes, and bring more deaths and suffering.
The UN Security Council members must act now by wielding their influence with both the regime and the opposition to ensure safe passage or access to medical and other humanitarian relief. They must make sure that the regime is serious about negotiations and put pressure on it to stop using starvation as a weapon and to immediately start allowing greater humanitarian assistance to besieged areas.
In this regard, the coming weeks will be a major test of the global community’s ability to push for a lasting solution to the conflict.
The conference offers a real possibility for a political solution. But if it fails, the situation will be worse. Those involved in the process have a responsibility not to allow that to happen.