Due to the intense violence currently in Syria, public affairs work has become increasingly risky, particularly within civil society and relief efforts. At a time in which the need for this kind of work increases, especially in besieged areas due to fighting and lack of resources, the number of volunteers, activists, and organizations trying to meet the desperate need has increased. In addition, the civil society institutions and organizations that are involved in this work have had to spontaneously respond to very dynamic and challenging circumstances, which unfortunately has resulted in a great deal of chaos, improvisation and lack of transparency regarding their working mechanisms and the groups of people that they serve. Furthermore, the lack of capacity and training, from which many of the organizations suffer, has become a huge challenge, causing unintended consequences and costly mistakes. These factors and more have motivated the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria to launch the “Transparency and Monitoring Project” to assist civil and relief organizations to increase the quality and scale of their work.
– The project focused first on training a group of volunteers and activists from these organizations in the design, monitoring, and evaluation of conflict-sensitive humanitarian aid and psychosocial assistance interventions, including the development of the DO NO HARM approach methodology, theories of change, indicators and metrics to better evaluate successful programs. Further training in research methods and data collection methodology was conducted to build the capacity of participants to document and evaluate their work in order to achieve more transparency in the field of relief work in Syria. The research was planned for the areas in which the participants worked, namely Damascus, its countryside and its suburbs.
Another goal of this project was to create a platform and environment in which institutions, organizations, local councils, and relief agencies could share resources and information from the areas researched in order to fully know the present situation and to be able to study the needs of those most affected.
After identifying Damascus and its countryside as a focus area for the implementation of this project, it was divided into fourteen sections, seven for the city of Damascus and another seven for its surrounding countryside. The Center targeted a group of twelve activists from different organizations and institutes. Although the organizers had expected another seven activists to participate, they were unable to attend because of the security situation due to the violence. Following the training, the participants were expected to monitor the work of the institutions and organizations that nominated them. They were also able to review the work of independent organizations of their choosing and apply the tools and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation they had learned in the workshop.
The participants were asked to distribute a questionnaire to groups of active citizens known for their work in the revolution, to have them respond to the questions and send it back to the Center for Civil Society and Democracy to study and analyze. After analyzing the completed questionnaires, we found the following results:
This project is timely and relevant because of the present crisis inside Syria, from displacement, deteriorating economic conditions, destruction of property and loss of jobs. These issues and more have increased the great need for humanitarian, psychosocial, and community development. And yet this work was all conducted under the radar and in secrecy because of the difficult security situation.
Due to the importance of anonymity for security reasons, much of the information regarding the relief situation in Syria has been blocked and prevented from being shared, including documents of the real needs of the refugees, the possibility to fully help them, the abilities of the workers in this field and the obstacles they face. For this reason the Center for Civil Society and Democracy identified the need to spread the concept of transparency among Syrian organizations and the community in general. With this in mind, the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria petitioned the support of funders. It has been the honor of the staff and volunteers of the Center to work with and be supported by the Canadian government and they are very grateful for their cooperation.
Some Notes on the Study:
When the project first began, admittedly the study was not completely neutral in terms of participant selection due to security issues. To be more specific, all of the participants shared the same opposing opinions to the present regime. However, they differed greatly in their opinions and allegiances towards the various opposition parties and their intellectual, ethnic, regional or sectarian approach.
The study was initiated by the workshop participants upon their return to Syria and it lasted one month. Because of the dynamics of the conflict and changing atmosphere of relief work, the study may not be comprehensive. However, the data from this research does provide a good overview of the humanitarian relief situation in Syria, and it can possibly be a starting point and foundational study from which further work and research can begin.
Features of Relief Work:
- In many cases, the work of different organizations operating in the same region is confused due to lack of coordination between them. This sometimes leads to some families receiving other families’ shares of aid and relief.
- Many of the humanitarian workers have responded spontaneously and do not have the proper training or expertise needed to conduct formative baseline research and documentation of the situation on the ground.
- Most of the activists were fearful to share information about their work because of the high degree of security concerns.
Key Findings of this Study:
- The type of workforce functioning in these areas varied greatly; relief organizations, local councils, small, organized groups of individuals or, in some cases, individuals operating alone.
- The study targeted more than 35 areas in Damascus and its countryside, depending on the activists who received the questionnaire. The level of coverage and evaluation was uneven from one region to another; depending on each region’s particularities, circumstances, nature of conflict and clashes. In addition the amount of destruction, the number of displaced and the presence of relief organizations in each region and their ability to work also played an important factor.
- The study showed the effectiveness of the relief work in some of the areas that are under the control of the regime, such as Al-Mazzeh, Al-Adwi, Ashrafiet Sahnaya, Jaramana and Al-Zahera, compared to other areas that are under the control of the armed opposition forces including in Eastern Ghouta, Douma, Harasta, Saqba, Mesraba and others. In Eastern Ghouta, the performance of the relief organizations was good but it needed more support.
- The sectarian diversity of the regions hosting refugees and internally displaced persons has spread to cover nearly all sects of Syria. However, this study found that the Sunni regions topped the list, but that may also have been due to the fact that Sunnis make up the largest demographic in Damascus and its countryside.
- Relief workers in many of the areas studied encounter regular obstacles, including random artillery and aviation shelling, lack of security, and increased kidnappings.
- The uncertainties of the unstable security situation have brought unintended consequences and inherent challenges. The relief work constantly faces challenges because of constant movement of supply warehouses, difficulty to move between different areas due to checkpoints and often the lack of means of transport by which to deliver the supplies of aid and help.
- The constant increase in the number of refugees and the clear lack of capacity for organizations to cover their needs has been further exacerbated by the desperate lack of accessibility of medical supplies, resources, food and fuel. There is also evidence of theft of aid and relief materials.
- Varying effectiveness in the work of different relief organizations from one region to another depended on the following factors: financial ability, foreign aid, and the security conditions under which they operate.
- In general, the metrics from the survey rated the work of the organizations and activists from acceptable to good. But it is clear that, due to the lack of coordination between groups, financial support and in management capabilities, the programs are not as developed or successful as they could be. In addition, it is apparent that the small numbers of trained and specialized volunteers lead to a capacity vacuum in service management and delivery.
- The study revealed the lack of commitment in most of the organizations when it comes to abiding the principals of transparency in their work. As it turned out, the majority of workers had no idea on the amounts of aid coming to their organizations, who provides these supplies or how much is being given to each family.
- The distribution of aid to the displaced was not subjected to any conditions in general. However, some organizations demanded “the family book”, and in other cases, the distribution was based on some priorities and preferences; according to the damages or to the fact that the displaced are related to a victim or victims. As for other organizations, there have been some cases where the aid was delivered according to political, religious and sectarian considerations.
Recommendations for Future Projects:
- Due to the short amount of time in which this study was conducted, there was a great amount of pressure on the trainees to gather the needed information. For this reason, the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria asks for the allocation of more time during which to complete future studies of this kind, as they require a lot of movement, travel and communication with people.
- New, innovative ways through which to raise people’s awareness of the concept of transparency and monitoring using the media and social communication tools should be established.
- The development of better metrics and indicators of transparency work is needed to more effectively evaluate the quality of service of delivery.
- The development of an upstream strategic communications campaign would help to educate opinion leaders and dignitaries on the need for investment and capacity building for the sake of humanitarianism and not for political, sectarian or personal purposes.
Center For Civil Society And Democray In Syria