Quick Statistics on Syria’s humanitarian crisis:
– 12.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance
– 5.5 million children affected by the crisis
– 7.6 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
– 4 million refugees in neighboring countries
The Refugee Crisis
The refugee crisis in Syria is one of the biggest humanitarian challenges of our time. There are currently nearly 4 million Syrians registered as refugees, and that number is only growing. On top of that, the growing refugee and IDP population are receiving even less aid than before.
Treacherous Winter Conditions
People in and around Syria have suffered through terrible humanitarian conditions from the war to begin with, but the situation was exacerbated this winter as the area bared the bitter cold and winter storms. On top of the brutal weather, many people lack the shelter and clothing necessary to keep healthy in such conditions, and fell ill or even died from the treacherous weather.
Lack of Food Aid
Due to funding shortages and government bureaucracy blocking aid agencies from distributing food aid, millions of displaced Syrians are going hungry. This winter, the U.N. had to cut the calorie count for displaced Syrians to just 825 calories per day. Keep in mind that with fewer than 1,200 calories a day, the body is sent into starvation mode inducing side effects such as weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and constipation.
Additionally, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) recently had to reduce the number of Syrian refugees it can assist through its electronic voucher system in Turkey because of a lack of donations. The number has been reduced from 220,000 refugees in 20 camps to 154,000 in 9 camps.
The WFP is projecting a funding shortage of $71 million in donations for all of 2015.
Lack of Medical Attention
Yet another huge problem in Syria right now is the rapid spread of diseases and the lack of medical resources to treat those who are affected. People are dying from diseases like Cholera, Typhoid, Scabies, and Tuberculosis because there are no treatments or vaccines available.
As conditions worsen, there are fewer medical professionals to take care of the sick and wounded. More than 600 medical workers have been killed throughout the four-year conflict, most of them by government forces. A group of Syrian doctors came out and said Western states are focusing too much on fighting ISIS, and not enough on helping ordinary Syrians suffering through terrible humanitarian and medical situations (Reuters, 2015).
New Year, New Hope?
March 15, 2015 marked the end of the fourth year of the conflict in Syria. The new year brings an opportunity for the international community to reassess its response plan, and to create an aid environment that allows for positive, lasting change in Syria.
Here is a list of some of the new initiatives under way:
–The Syria Strategic Response Plan 2015: The UN is seeking US$8.4 billion to help Syrians gain access to main humanitarian needs, such as food, medicine, shelter and more.
–The Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan: This plan brings together emergency humanitarian operations and aims to create longer-term programs to boost the resilience of vulnerable people and impacted communities. It requires US$5.5 billion in funding to support an estimated 6 million people.
-UN Refugee Agency has released a global appeal to resettle 100,000 refugees worldwide.
-Turkey has begun building a new and upgraded refugee camp to accommodate tens of thousands of Syrians who have escaped the embattled town of Kobani. The camp will offer educational institutions and medical facilities.
-Human Rights Watch has expressed beliefs that the UN Security Council needs to have more of a roll in the conflict, saying actions “could include referring Syria to the ICC and imposing an arms embargo on groups, including the government, committing systematic and widespread human rights violations.”
Donor fatigue is becoming a serious problem as the conflict in Syria drags on. The world cannot dismiss this humanitarian crisis and give up on the Syrian people. These initiatives highlight some of the many actions underway which could bring light to a very grim situation; it is up to the international community to follow through with such plans and help Syria and the Middle East obtain peace.
The four-year anniversary of the devastating civil war in Syria recently passed on March 15th, 2015. News sources have been circulating tragic stories of the immense suffering that the conflict has caused, the daily fatal bombing and shelling campaigns, and the spread of extremist militant groups. While the world absolutely needs to be informed on this terror, it also needs to hear about the brave figures that are doing everything in their power to stop the madness.
Amidst what seems like endless despair, local civilians in Syria stand tall and strong, bringing hope to a grim situation. Thousands of courageous people are going unnoticed as they selflessly save lives, provide needed services, promote human rights, and fight to get their country back. These people are true heroes who deserve recognition for their actions.
Here are some of the groups that are making a difference in Syria:
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)
Civil society groups began forming in Syria in 2011 to bring a voice to those who had been silenced for too long; to help the country gain freedom and rule of law based on the consent of the people. The Assad Regime responded to their actions with a brutal crackdown against the movements by imprisoning and torturing activists, and hitting communities with storms of mortars to silence the peaceful demands. While this led to the civil war the country is witnessing today, many of the CSOs are still functioning despite the utter chaos. A few of the main focuses of CSOs are on providing medical support, education, documenting human rights violations, and raising awareness on how to seek shelter during an attack.
“The White Helmets,” also known as Syrian Civil Defense, is a prime example of a CSO making a difference in Syria. This group of unpaid, unarmed volunteers rush to the site of bombings in Syria to claw out survivors from the rubble. The White Helmets formed in 2013, and in this short amount of time, the group has saved more than 12,500 lives. There are more than 2,200 volunteers – most are men, but a growing number of women are getting involved as well. More than 80 individuals have been killed while volunteering, largely because Syrian military aircraft often return for a “double-tap” and drop bombs on the rescuers.
The White Helmets’ campaign to pressure President Assad to stop dropping barrel bombs and argue that the West is so focused on ISIS, that it is ignoring the far greater killings by Assad.
Local councils in Syria are volunteer-based governing bodies that provide basic services, deliver relief items, and rebuild destroyed infrastructure. They are organized by city, town, sometimes neighborhood, and province and try to adhere to a democratic election process. Without these local councils, many Syrian communities would be completely devoid of basic needs like food and water, roads would be blocked with rubble, and infrastructure would remain in shambles.
The Failure of the International Community
From peace talks in Russia to the UN-proposed ceasefire in Aleppo, the international community has failed Syria time and time again. It is time to consider alternative measures that should include empowering and supporting these local heroes. The media should be sure to feature stories on civil society actors inside Syria and the differences they make so that these groups can get more support and continue their good work.