UN to launch early recovery trust fund with its secretariat outside Syria to prevent politicization

The United Nations provides humanitarian aid to the residents of Deir Hafer area in rural Aleppo, northern Syria - February 19, 2024 (UN in Syria)

The United Nations provides humanitarian aid to the residents of Deir Hafer area in rural Aleppo, northern Syria - February 19, 2024 (UN in Syria)


Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

The United Nations intends to launch a special program for early recovery in Syria, aiming to establish projects in a number of sectors before next summer.

The funding of these projects will be done through the creation of a special fund that provides some non-traditional donors, such as Gulf countries, with a safe and legal mechanism under an international umbrella. These aids currently cannot be provided due to Western sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime.

The fund may also allow organizations and banks, like the World Bank, to provide assistance earmarked for Syria and the victims of the earthquake, which has not been provided so far due to sanctions.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defines the term “early recovery” as “an approach that addresses the recovery needs that emerge during the humanitarian response stage through the use of humanitarian mechanisms that are consistent with development principles. This approach enables people to benefit from humanitarian work to seize development opportunities, build resilience, and create a sustainable recovery process from the crisis.”

Four objectives, including avoiding sanctions

Adam Abdelmoula, the United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in Syria, said in an email correspondence with Enab Baladi, that the trust fund set up for early recovery, scheduled to be launched in Syria, has several objectives.

According to Abdelmoula, these objectives include encouraging a collaborative approach between humanitarian actors (who have spent hundreds of millions on individual, scattered early recovery activities without achieving a tangible impact) and providing bilateral donors, unable to direct resources to Syria due to the sanctions system, with an alternative channel under a multi-sponsorship and through the United Nations.

The fund also aims to allow donors, the United Nations, NGOs to jointly decide what should be funded and where, and to continue to focus on key sectors of early recovery (health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene, livelihoods, and electricity), Abdelmoula added.

The United Nations provides humanitarian aid to the residents of Deir Hafer area in rural Aleppo, northern Syria - February 19, 2024 (UN in Syria)

The United Nations provides humanitarian aid to the residents of Deir Hafer area in rural Aleppo, northern Syria – February 19, 2024 (UN in Syria)

The fund’s secretariat outside Syria

The early recovery strategy is based on the third pillar of the successive humanitarian plans, three resolutions of the Security Council, and directives from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, according to the United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in Syria.

This strategy is a humanitarian initiative that seeks to expand the scope of work of the humanitarian community in key sectors that could lead to transformative change (such as reducing the burden of humanitarian cases, contributing to conditions that allow for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, among others).

As this matter is based on the shared humanitarian agenda of the United Nations, it must be governed by the basic humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality, and humanity, according to Abdelmoula. Therefore, early recovery must be protected from any attempt at politicization.

To achieve this protection, Abdelmoula believes that the fund’s secretariat must be outside Syria.

Both the strategy and the fund aim to benefit all of Syria, regardless of who controls any part of it, as humanitarian actors on the ground must have full autonomy to develop their own early recovery programs and projects and should have equal access to the fund.

Regarding the United Nations’ efforts to ensure that aid is not affected by political affairs, Abdelmoula said, “We are not seeking approvals or guarantees from any party.”

Gulf funds

The fund provides some non-traditional donors (referring to the Gulf states), who usually prefer to provide aid directly to the government of the regime but cannot do so due to sanctions, with a secure and legitimate mechanism under an international umbrella to provide aid to the people.


The consultations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have so far been informal, and I plan to have formal discussions with them once the early recovery strategy and the accompanying trust fund are finalized and approved.

Gulf countries usually prefer to direct resources bilaterally, and this is not possible because Syria is under sanctions, and the SWIFT system has been banned for it. The proposed trust fund offers an alternative.

Adam Abdelmoula, United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs in Syria


According to a joint report prepared by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the Syrian Studies Centre at the University of St Andrews, in September 2020, Syria suffered economic losses estimated at about 442 billion dollars over eight years, due to a war “that has devastated everything and cost the country the hard-earned social and economic gains.”

Reducing aid and rapprochement

The editor-in-chief of the Syria Report, an online economic news service and database, Jihad Yazigi, believes that the United Nations’ orientation to develop a special strategy for early recovery is due to two reasons. The first is a gradual decrease in the size of aid concurrent with an increase in the size of needs.

One of the alternatives to aid is sustaining Syrian economic activity, which is seen as an attempt to create local production and develop economic activity that helps employ more people and reduce their dependence on humanitarian aid, which is declining year after year.

The second reason, according to Yazigi’s talk with Enab Baladi, is the Arab rapprochement with the Syrian regime, considering it an opportunity to inject Gulf money into investment sectors in the country, replacing these funds from humanitarian efforts to the framework of economic projects.

The United Nations operates under the pressure of many countries, not just Western countries. Meanwhile, Gulf states have not put their money into humanitarian affairs in the past few years, amidst difficulties in the investment sector due to Western sanctions, according to Yazigi.

Three differences between early recovery and reconstruction

In January 2023, the chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, sent a letter to the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, stating that allowing more investment in Syria in any way is a form of normalization with Bashar al-Assad, “which diminishes his status as an outcast”.

He said that supporting long-term development in Syria to include any form of reconstruction in regime-controlled areas is unacceptable in the absence of a permanent political solution in line with Security Council resolution “2254”, as Assad and his supporters continue to commit war crimes throughout Syria because they benefit from international aid.

The term “early recovery” carries ambiguity in its interpretation, as there is no clear consensus on its definition in humanitarian circles, according to a report by the Operations and Policy Center, as early recovery assistance can be seen as falling between reconstruction on one hand and the regular humanitarian aid provided by food, water services, shelter, sanitation and hygiene on the other hand.

Three differences between early recovery and reconstruction

  • The planning and implementation of reconstruction lies with the state, whereas early recovery is planned and implemented by relief organizations, whether they are centralized under the command of a single administrative body such as the United Nations, or by individual organizations.

  • Early recovery is a form of humanitarian assistance, while reconstruction is not necessarily so. Reconstruction can come in the form of concessional loans from individual or multinational organizations like the IMF or the World Bank, whereas early recovery is merely a form of humanitarian assistance that does not require repayment later.

  • Priorities for early recovery depend on humanitarian needs, just like other forms of humanitarian assistance, whereas reconstruction does not necessarily do so.

Source: Operations and Policy Center (OPC)

Keeping regime’s hands off the funds is a condition for success

In his view, the economist Jihad Yazigi believes that the Gulf states may channel their funds through their networks associated with Syrian or Gulf businessmen, by supporting projects that would benefit certain economic sectors.

Yazigi thinks that the Gulf states’ refusal to finance the humanitarian effort in Syria over all these years indicates that funding aid is not an important factor for the Gulf countries; rather, what matters to them is to defend their own economic interests and those of their allies.


Financing economic projects is not inherently a bad thing, but the challenge here is to establish a clear mechanism that ultimately prevents funding from going to companies and networks related to the regime.

Jihad Yazigi, Editor-in-chief of the Syria Report


According to Yazigi, preventing these networks from benefiting from the funding requires significant monitoring of the companies benefiting from the projects, and understanding how the funds of this pot will be managed.

16.7 million people in need of aid

In Syria, 16.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance – an increase of 9% over the year 2023, according to the estimates of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UNHCR stated that the year 2024 indicates that the humanitarian and economic indicators in the country continue to deteriorate, and that the economic situation is “increasingly critical,” and a major driver of needs.

80% of the Syrian population is in need of some form of humanitarian assistance in 2024, according to an overview of the Humanitarian Needs Overview for 2024 (HNO).

Approximately 55% of the population in Syria, or 12.9 million people, suffer from food insecurity, with 3.1 million suffering severely from it.

Most Syrians resort to relying on more than one source of income to try to balance between income and expenses. Prominent among these sources are remittances from expatriates outside Syria, reliance on secondary jobs, and families foregoing essentials in their lives to reduce their spending rate.



النسخة العربية من المقال

Related Articles

  1. Syria Civil Defense contributes to early recovery plan; conditions for completing such step
  2. Conflict of interests rules Syria’s early recovery agenda, projects
  3. Syria reconstruction may turn into “consolation prize” for warlords
  4. Does the UN contribute to Assad’s flotation?

Propaganda distorts the truth and prolongs the war..

Syria needs free media.. We need your support to stay independent..

Support Enab Baladi..

$1 a month makes a difference..

Click here to support