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British charities launch joint appeal for Syria

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 21 Mar 2013 15:46 GMT
Author: Zoe Eisenstein
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By Zoe Eisenstein 

LONDON (AlertNet) – A coalition of UK charities that raises funds for crises launched its first joint appeal for Syria on Thursday, amid concerns it would be difficult to communicate the severity of the humanitarian crisis there to the British public. 

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an alliance of 14 leading UK aid agencies, had until now held back on asking the British public for money because it was worried they would not donate

“It’s been a complicated one for everybody, for all our members and partners, because there is obviously huge concern to ensure we are demonstrating our impartiality in a very political context,” DEC spokesman Brendan Paddy said. 

“This is a very tough conflict situation to explain and we had to be confident before we launched that we can explain it in a way that the public will understand and respond to … We couldn’t tell them the story without pictures and expect them to respond in the way we needed them to,” he added.

Some 70,000 people have been killed in the two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which has also made refugees of 1.1 million Syrians, according to the United Nations.

The DEC says over three million people have been forced to flee their homes and the number of refugees fleeing the country has increased from 1,000 a day at the beginning of the year to over 8,000 a day. 

“The needs are both within Syria and across the region. Our members and their partners have identified a total funding gap for their activities of £150 million ($228 million). The DEC isn’t solely expecting to raise all of that … but we hope we can make a contribution towards meeting those needs,” Paddy said. 

“There is capacity for many of our members to increase their activities within Syria with more money,” he added. 

The appeal launch comes just days after the second anniversary of the start of the conflict in Syria. Some aid officials had questioned why it was taking so long for a joint appeal given the severity of crisis and some said the sticking point appeared to be reservations UK broadcasters had about one, especially the BBC.

When the DEC launches an appeal, it enlists the help of the BBC and another broadcaster, ITN, to produce an appeal package which is presented by a celebrity and aired in a prime-time slot. There are also radio appeals and the public can also make donations at high street banks and post offices.

The BBC was criticised in 2009 for refusing to broadcast a DEC appeal for the survivors of Israel's offensive in Gaza. At the time the BBC and Sky, another UK-based broadcaster, said they did not want to be seen to favour either side of the conflict. The BBC website today featured the DEC appeal for Syria, indicating that it was on board.

Despite the lack of a joint appeal by the DEC until now, 10 of its 14 member agencies had issued their own separate funding appeals for Syria. Paddy said he hoped this joint appeal would be more successful.

“We do expect together to be able to deliver a more successful appeal. The new tagline we use is together we are stronger,” he said. 

“Having said that I’m very conscious that this is a very difficult situation to explain and show to the British public. We try not to set targets or compare with other appeals,” he added. 

Appeals for humanitarian crises regarded by the public as being man-made rather than naturally-occurring disasters have in the past raised less money. 

The DEC’s Gaza appeal in 2009 raised £8.3 million, its 2007 appeal for Darfur and Chad raised £13.6 million and it raised £2.5 million for Liberia in 2003. By comparison, the 2011 appeal for the East Africa hunger crisis raised £79 million, the appeal for Pakistan floods in 2010 raised £71 million and the Haiti earthquake appeal also in 2010 raised £107 million.

1 British Pound Sterling equals  1.52 US Dollar

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