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Syria Today – Conflicft Enters Fourteenth Year

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Conflicft Enters Fourteenth Year

As Syria’s conflict reaches its 14th year, the humanitarian crisis intensifies with nearly three-quarters of the population, over 16.5 million people, in need of aid—marking the highest demand since the conflict began in 2011. This is a 9% increase from 2023 and a staggering 25% rise since 2021. The ongoing conflict has devastated the country’s infrastructure, leaving many without basic services, and plunging over 90% of Syrians into poverty.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) highlights the dire situation in northern Syria, which is facing the worst violence since 2020, leading to significant displacement and the shutdown of essential civilian facilities. The economic decline exacerbated the crisis, with many Syrians forced into debt and relying on selling assets or taking loans for basic needs, including food. The IRC’s survey in northern Syria reveals a severe impact on food security, with increased reliance on credit for food purchases and rising malnutrition among children under five.

Tanya Evans, IRC’s Country Director for Syria, emphasizes the severe toll on Syrians, with the economy worsening and food prices soaring. Syrians are forced into making harrowing choices, such as resorting to child labor, to survive. Despite the escalating needs, funding for Syria’s Humanitarian Response Plan is dwindling, receiving less than 40% of required funds in 2023, with projections indicating further cuts for 2024. This funding gap severely limits the ability of organizations like the IRC to provide critical services, exacerbating the suffering of those in need.

The situation worsened following the catastrophic earthquakes in February last year, deepening poverty and displacement in the northwest. With international focus on the Syrian crisis fading, Evans urges the global community to act with urgency to provide sustained funding for humanitarian and recovery efforts, addressing the immediate needs and supporting community recovery to prevent further deterioration of the situation.

13 years into conflict in Syria: Dwindling aid further deepens humanitarian suffering in Syria

Columnist Najim Taher published an article in CARE shedding light on the dire situation in Syria and for the Syrians across the world on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the conflict in Syria.

As Syria’s conflict enters its 13th year on March 15, 2024, the humanitarian crisis deepens with 16.7 million people, over 70% of the population, in need of aid—a 9.15% increase from the previous year. The country faces significant funding shortfalls, with a 61% gap in required humanitarian funds in 2023, worsening in 2024. This has led to prioritization of critical needs and reduced aid, with negative coping mechanisms like early marriages and child labor on the rise due to economic hardship and lack of income opportunities. The World Food Programme’s funding cuts have led to an 80% reduction in food assistance, exacerbating hunger in a country already among the top ten for global hunger.

Syria’s economy has sharply declined, with a 130% depreciation in currency and soaring inflation, making basic living unaffordable for the majority. Recent conflict escalations have increased civilian casualties, displacement, and destroyed vital infrastructure, worsening the plight of approximately 6.8 million internally displaced and 6.5 million refugees. The 2023 earthquakes further strained the struggling communities, especially in the northwest. The ongoing crisis demands immediate international action and funding to address the escalating humanitarian needs and aid recovery efforts.

WHO marks 13 years of the Syrian crisis with renewed commitment 

As the Syrian conflict enters its 14th year, WHO reaffirms its unwavering support to the people of Syria.

The prolonged crisis has inflicted immense suffering on the civilian population. A record 16.7 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, including 7.2 million who have been internally displaced.

Health needs are overwhelming. But the disrupted health system is struggling to provide life-sustaining and life-saving health services in a context marked by conflict, economic instability, disease outbreaks and natural disasters. Currently, 65% of Syria’s hospitals and 62% of its primary health care centres are either closed or only partially functioning.

“Thirteen years into the crisis, Syria’s health care system is at its highest need and WHO’s support is more critical than ever,” said Dr Iman Shankiti, acting WHO Representative in Syria. “Investing in essential health services is not only about saving lives today but also about preventing a complete collapse of the health system in the future.”

Since the start of the crisis in 2011, WHO has worked with the Ministry of Health and partners to help ensure that critical health care is available to those who need it most. Since the beginning of the crisis, WHO has provided almost 80 million medical treatments, supported over 11 million medical procedures and 3.3 million trauma consultations, and trained about 178 000 health professionals.

Syrian refugees face waning support and hope after 13 years

When Zuhur, 44, fled to Lebanon with her family at the onset of the Syrian crisis in early 2011, she thought it would be only a matter of days before they returned home, according to a UN report.

“I carried my youngest son, whom I had just given birth to, and crossed the border with my four other children. We did not even pack a bag of belongings; we truly believed we would not stay in Lebanon for too long,” Zuhur recalled.

But as days stretched to months and then years, Zuhur’s yearning for home was increasingly eclipsed by the day-to-day struggle for survival. Thirteen years after the crisis began, she is one of more than 5 million Syrians still living as refugees in neighboring countries in the region.

“We have lost 13 years of our lives,” Zuhur said.

In Lebanon, which hosts the largest share of refugees per capita in the world, a dire economic crisis that began in 2019 has caused widespread misery, including for the more than 780,000 registered Syrian refugees. Food prices have more than tripled while unemployment has more than doubled, pushing an estimated 80 percent of Lebanese into poverty.

For Lebanese and Syrian refugee families who were already struggling before the economic crisis, the last five years have been ruinous. Among Syrians, levels of child labor, early and forced marriages and food insecurity are all on the rise. More than half of refugees live in substandard or unsafe accommodation, and over a third of adults report limiting their food intake to ensure their children are fed.

Like many Syrian refugees, Zuhur and her family live in an informal tented settlement that offers little protection from the extremes of weather that the north of the country experiences. “In the wintertime, the rains flood the tents, and everything we have is drenched. We burn what we can in this stove to keep warm, like plastic bags, shoes, and bottles.”

Zuhur – who worked as a nurse back in Syria after completing her education – blames the sooty fumes released by the burning waste for her daughter’s asthma. Her medical knowledge has come in handy over the past 13 years, allowing her to care for her family and many friends and neighbors.

“I tend to whoever needs help around me, but there are some wounds that you can’t heal,” she explained.

Zuhur’s husband has a disability that prevents him from working, leaving the family entirely dependent on the financial assistance they receive from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the little money her children earn from menial work such as collecting recyclable materials. Even then, they face a constant struggle to cover the spiraling cost of food, fuel and rent.

Syria’s healthcare system on life support after 13 years of war and western sanctions

Syria’s healthcare system is in dire straits after 13 years of continuous conflict and the imposition of Western sanctions. 

A report published by The National shows that the cumulative effect of a long-lasting war and sanctions has left the nation’s healthcare infrastructure severely damaged, leading to a situation where only half of the hospitals are fully operational, and a significant portion can only offer limited services or are completely non-functional. The war, compounded by sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to critical shortages of medical staff, essential medicines, and the destruction of healthcare facilities and pharmaceutical factories. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups have been working to meet the basic needs of the Syrian population, but the challenges are overwhelming. More than 12 million people are in desperate need of healthcare, facing obstacles such as the destruction of medical infrastructure, scarcity of medical professionals due to displacement or loss, and stringent sanctions that hamper the importation of medical equipment and spare parts. 

Furthermore, the aftermath of a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake has exacerbated the situation, particularly in the northwest province of Idlib, putting additional strain on the already crumbling healthcare system. Despite local production, Syria struggles to meet the medical needs of its population due to sanctions affecting the import of critical raw materials for pharmaceuticals and restrictions on financial transactions and logistics.

The situation has ignited a debate over the humanitarian impact of sanctions, with critics arguing that they have indirectly hindered access to essential medicines and medical supplies, thereby amplifying the healthcare crisis. The Syrian government and opposition groups have also faced criticism for their roles in deepening the crisis, although efforts are being made to recover and improve the health system through initiatives like the National Primary Health Care Strategy 2023-2027, developed with WHO’s support.

Rethinking aid in Syria, my home country

Rasha Muhrez, the Syria Country Director for Save the Children, offers a poignant reflection on the current state of humanitarian aid in Syria, a country deeply scarred by over a decade of conflict. Muhrez’s account reveals a landscape of aid that, while well-intentioned, falls short of addressing the systemic issues plaguing Syria. The narrative underscores the dire need for a shift from temporary, emergency relief to sustainable, early recovery efforts that empower communities to rebuild their lives with dignity.

The staggering figure of 16.7 million Syrians needing humanitarian assistance—nearly 80% of the population—highlights the escalating crisis. Yet, the aid system remains static, offering only superficial solutions to deep-rooted problems. Muhrez brings attention to the heartbreaking reality of children retaking the sixth grade indefinitely due to the lack of secondary education opportunities, symbolizing the cycle of despair perpetuated by the current aid model.

Economic degradation has been severe, with a doctor’s monthly salary in Damascus dropping to an equivalent of $26, barely covering transportation costs. This economic crisis is exacerbated by political complexities and donor stipulations linking aid to political change, which stymies efforts for substantial reconstruction or development.

Muhrez advocates for early recovery as a bridge between emergency relief and full-scale reconstruction. This approach focuses on sustainable solutions that build community resilience, such as teacher training and repairing infrastructure like playgrounds and schools. However, the prerequisite for such recovery—basic infrastructure like electricity, water, and functioning markets—has been eroded by over a decade of conflict, making early recovery efforts challenging.

The piece also highlights the recent escalation in violence since October, displacing at least 120,000 people and killing dozens, further undermining the prospects for early recovery. Despite these challenges, Muhrez calls for a reevaluation of the international community’s approach to aid in Syria. She criticizes the slow response to the earthquakes in southern Türkiye and northern Syria, contrasting the focus on rebuilding in Türkiye with the lack of emphasis on recovery in Syria.

Through stories like that of 15-year-old Saleh, Muhrez humanizes the plight of Syrian children, whose aspirations and needs are not unlike those of children anywhere else in the world. She underscores the urgent need to shift towards genuine early recovery to prevent a future where Syrian children grow up in a cycle of aid dependency, insecurity, and violence.

In conclusion, Muhrez challenges the international community to transcend politics and prioritize the well-being of Syrians. She argues against letting sanctions, export restrictions, and counter-terrorism legislation hinder humanitarian efforts. As Syria enters its 14th year of conflict, Muhrez’s message is a clarion call for a new approach that offers Syrians not just survival, but a pathway to a dignified and self-sufficient future.

Syria: Suicide drones increasingly targeting civilians

Jennifer Holleis and Omar Albam published a report in DW, highlighting a rise in the use of suicide drones against civilians, particularly targeting farmers in the country’s northwest. 

This escalation in violence, occurring 13 years after the civil war’s onset, underscores the enduring and deepening humanitarian crisis. Mohammad Zakaria Junaidi’s harrowing account of a drone attack while with his sons highlights the indiscriminate nature of these assaults, posing dire threats to lives, agriculture, and the dwindling hope of the affected populations.

The Syrian government, backed by Russian and Iranian support, has intensified armed drone attacks in opposition-held regions, notably in areas critical to agriculture such as Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo. These drones, which can carry explosives, represent a cheap and accessible means to target opposition forces. However, the increasing civilian casualties suggest a broader strategy aimed at undermining the livelihoods and survival of people in non-regime areas. Human Rights Watch and other observers note such attacks could constitute breaches of international law, specifically the laws of war that protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

This uptick in drone usage marks a significant shift in the conflict’s dynamics, potentially compensating for the reduced presence of Russian airpower since the onset of the war in Ukraine. The implications for agriculture are particularly concerning, with potential impacts on wheat production and food security in a region already ravaged by conflict and natural disasters, including the devastating earthquake in February 2023.

As the Syrian conflict enters its 14th year, the international community must grapple with the consequences of a war that continues to evolve in its methods of violence, leaving civilians in an ever-precarious situation, facing threats to their safety, their food supply, and their very existence amidst the ruins of their country.


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