The entire economy of rebel-held Syria is a black market. Most traditional government and nongovernmental aid packages are unlikely to have any meaningful impact in these circumstances. Syrians in rebel-held areas have all but completely lost faith in traditional charity organizations. Multimillion-dollar aid packages to the exile opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), are helpful but have done little for people on the ground.
A number of independent aid organizations have already established a rapport with the population proving successful where governments have failed. “Don’t Forget Syria” is an explicitly non-political aid organization founded by a 22-year-old Dutch aid worker who has been able to bring more than $100,000 of aid into Syria. Aid organizations already on the ground have an accurate idea of the journey that the aid takes from donor to those in need. The US government and other traditional aid groups should pay close attention and take advice from existing groups to deliver humanitarian aid as needed.
The only truly effective aid channels to Syria are those that have already been set up. There are many Westerners already working with Syrians in the country and, as a matter of policy, the American government, nongovernmental organizations, and private aid organizations should pay attention to how they have managed to do this and model their own outreach based on these existing efforts.
Patrick Hilsman is a freelance journalist who has worked in Syria and Lebanon since 2012. He has reported for Syria Deeply, an independent digital media organization focused on the Syrian conflict. He appeared on the BBC from Aleppo, Syria.