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Why isn’t the advertising world doing more for Syria?

Should agencies be doing more to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Syria?

Syria, like Palestine, appears to be a subject that few within regional advertising are willing to discuss. But if you place politics aside, it’s fair to ask why more is not being done to help alleviate the humanitarian tragedy in Syria.

As the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, says, the humanitarian situation in Syria is “extremely challenging and continues to deteriorate at a rapid pace” with more than 6.8 million Syrians (the majority internally displaced) now requiring humanitarian assistance (as of last year).

What’s more, a UNHCR report from January titled ‘The Future of Syria: Refugee Children in Crisis’, said that more than “1.1 million Syrian children are refugees. This shameful milestone of conflict must deliver more than headlines. Humanitarian organisations and governments are desperately trying to address the needs of the vulnerable children – but much more needs to be done if we are to avert a catastrophe”.

The strain this exodus is causing Syria’s neighbours, including Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, is considerable, with fears of conflict spill over, particularly in Lebanon, increasing by the day.

Considering the advertising community is, as Ramsey Naja says, fond of creating campaigns for charities and NGOs in a bid to win awards, why is it doing virtually nothing to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Syria?

“Should the advertising world be doing more for Syria?” asks Adnan Tarabishy, the joint founder of Damascus-based advertising agency Y2Ad. “The world should be doing more for Syria, not only the advertising world. The advertising world should raise awareness of the humanitarian issue, as it has been described by the United Nations as the most catastrophic since the Second World War.

“The facts and figures, for example, are shocking, with more than three million Syrian refugees registered at the UNHCR and another nine million internally displaced, which means around 50 per cent of the Syrian population is in need for assistance. In the same manner, Syrian children are becoming more and more a lost generation, which will be a major threat not only to Syria but also to the whole world.

“And this is where the role of advertising and communication comes in. To shed light on these facts that have nothing to do with taking sides, but rather to support the human-itarian side. The civil society organisations around the world are contributing positively to the needs created by the Syrian crisis, but they lack the communication support to place the spotlight on their activities and support their fundraising activities.

“We can start in the neighbouring countries, whereby we can do some sort of an association between the active civil society organisations and advertising and communication agencies. Then we can move into more regional institutions such as UNHCR, UNICEF or any international organisation so we can create a global message one day.

“What is going on in Syria needs the world’s support on all levels, so we can make the harm and pain less for the Syrian people. And there is nothing more effective than proper communication and responsible advertising.”

Why isn’t this happening?

“The Syrian revolution, which eventually became the Syrian Crisis, has re-drawn the dividing lines throughout the region across all facets of life – political, social and economic,” says Iyad Krayem, executive director of JWT Levant. “Geographic boarders are no longer as valid, and a new paradigm is emerging.

“The divisions have paralysed all organisations, including ad agencies, due to the complexity and polarization of the issue, and particularly organisations whose constituents straddle the old divide. What is really needed in this instance is not any form of action that brings about ‘taking sides’ for either protagonist in the conflict. The concentrated focus should be on the significant humanitarian problems arising out of the crisis. And this is what many individuals in the advertising world are quite rightly doing.”

As Krayem says, a number of individuals are attempting to help in whatever way they can, whilst the occasional agency is also contributing. One is M&C Saatchi, which recently rolled out a social media campaign for GlobeMed following the visit of actress Angelina Jolie to refugee camps in Lebanon.

Vincent Chamoun, regional development director at M&C Saatchi MENA, says: “We are undoubtedly tremendously affected and moved by what is happening in Syria, as I am sure everyone in the advertising world is. This said, we cannot answer on behalf of other advertising agencies. In this particular case we saw an opportunity
to help, and we did what was possible and in our own way.

“We will not spare to help again. Our contribution to humanitarian service is in line with one of the agency’s values, which is to provide support to humanitarian and societal causes or issues, of general interest.”