When the earthquake hit Türkiye and Syria, social media was inundated with emergency appeals from international NGOs and donors that shifted their priorities to provide emergency and early recovery support for those who have been affected.
But in Northwest Syria, one of the areas most critically impacted, 12 years of war and geopolitical interests have severely restricted the level of international assistance that can reach over 4 million people who already had extremely acute needs due to the ongoing conflict. Instead, local and community-based organisations and initiatives have been at the core of the response – from rescue efforts to humanitarian relief – with little or no international funding.
Peace Direct’s Syrian partners, Hurras Network and Swaadna Alsouria, quickly adapted their ongoing peacebuilding and education programmes to address the most urgent needs of the communities in the north-western cities where they operate. This includes the provision of winter kits and food baskets for affected children and their families, as well as psychosocial support services to help them deal with this new trauma.
This is not the first time that our local partners have had to adapt their scope of work in the aftermath of an emergency. From June to October 2022, Pakistan was hit by devastating floods which left one-third of the country underwater. Back then, our partners HIVE and Chanan Development Association decided to suspend their peacebuilding efforts to provide relief in marginalised communities that had been affected.
Similarly, the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and restrictions on women’s freedoms have made it impossible for many organisations to continue their activities. Yet, together with our Afghan partner Equality for Peace and Development, we have provided financial and institutional support to local peacebuilding and women’s rights organisations, enabling them to continue operating and building their resilience to adapt to the political and humanitarian crisis.
Emergencies like these emphasise the critical role, agency and long-standing ties of local actors. But they also shed light on the need to change funding practices in the “aid” sector and move towards more flexible, trust-based approaches to partnerships with local NGOs and civil society.
This means moving away from projectised short-term relationships that treat local actors as ‘implementing partners’, or as voices that can be ignored in humanitarian emergencies. Instead, international funders must establish long-term partnerships with clear targets for unrestricted funding and institutional support (whether there is an ongoing crisis or not). This will also mean taking more risks and investing in creative solutions to provide unrestricted support, outside the formal banking system where necessary or via independent funding mechanisms that enable locally led responses.
They are often better equipped to reach local populations, engage marginalised and excluded groups, and ensure that response efforts can be adapted to the needs of local people. Before the attention of international actors shifts to regions where crisis hits – and long after their attention has moved on to the next – local civil society remains embedded in their communities.
Among the many lessons that the ongoing disaster in Türkiye and Syria is teaching the international community, we cannot ignore the imperative for donors and international agencies to show solidarity with local civil society. Only the provision of long-term support to these actors will enable them to maintain and build their resilience at all times – not just when a new crisis strikes.
This blog was written by Manoela Baltar and originally posted by Bond.