Humanitarian News Brief: The Syria Crisis

The Syria Crisis

For over three years, the raging civil war in Syria has destroyed the lives of millions of civilians. Current data estimates that over 140,000 people have lost their lives to the conflict. There are nearly 3 million Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries and 6.5 million internally displaced persons who remain within the country, putting the total number of Syrians forced to flee their homes around 9 million, almost half of the population. According to the United Nations, by the end of 2014, three quarters of the Syrian population are expected to need aid. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been working in Syria since 1964 bringing food assistance to the country. Currently, WFP is reaching nearly 4 million people per month in Syria with vital food assistance, and is helping hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled into neighboring countries. Recently, WFP’s Syrian Country Director, Matthew Hollingworth (IDHA 1), spoke with the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in a video interview about the ongoing work of WFP in Syria as part of a larger story on the suffering civilians in the city of Aleppo. Speaking of the importance of WFP’s work and mission, Hollingworth explains that “for many of the people you will have met who have been displaced two, three, four, five times over the last three years of war, [food] is the mainstay of everything that they can give to their families. Without this there is no question that we would start to see really serious cases of malnutrition.” For more information, read the IIHA Humanitarian News Brief.

In March 2011, Syrian demonstrators gathered in the capital city, Damascus, and the southern city of Deraa to protest the arrest and torture of political prisoners, and demand their release. When security forces opened fire on the originally peaceful demonstrators in Deraa, killing several, more people took to the streets. The violent unrest spread steadily across the nation over the following months demanding the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets in towns and cities across the country, and the government’s use of military force to crush the dissent seemed only to harden the protesters’ resolve.

Opposition supporters eventually began taking up arms, first to defend themselves and later to expel security forces from their local areas. Initially, the conflict was between the rebels and government forces, but has since fragmented with rival rebel groups fighting each other for control over rebel-held areas. Syria is both a religious and ethnic mix of Sunnis, Alawites (an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam), Kurds, Christians and Druze. President Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect that has ruled the Sunni majority in Syria since 1970, has been trying to cling to power and save his clan.

The conflict has had disastrous consequences on the civilians who call Syria their home. From March 2011, when the civil war started, to July 2013, when the United Nations (UN) stopped updating the death toll, over 100,000 people had been killed. Today, estimates on the death toll exceed 140,000 people. There are nearly 3 million Syrian refugees mainly in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and to a lesser extent in Iraq andEgypt. This number is increasing at 100,000 people per month,making Syrians the largest population of refugees in the world. Jordan’s Zaatari camp, the first official refugee camp opened for Syrians in July 2012, is the destination for many newly arrived refugees. It has a population of about 85,000 Syrians, making it Jordan’s fourth largest city. This refuge for displaced Syrians has raised questions about the role of camps, and has ignited a discussion about the possible need to treat camps as more than transitional population centers. Residents of Zaatari camp have started opening barbershops and bike repair shops out of the desire to look ahead and make the best of the situation. Mr. Abdul Latif, a Syrian refugee and resident of Zaatari camp explained, “We were used to living a decent life back home, so we had to make something of our situation here.”

Inside Syria there are 6.5 million internally displaced persons, taking the total number of Syrians forced to flee their homes up to 9 million, almost half of the population. According to the United Nations, by the end of 2014, three quarters of Syrians are expected to need aid. This estimate has caused the UN to ask for its largest appeal ever of $6.5 billion to provide medical care, food, water and shelter for Syrians in need.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been working in Syria since 1964. Since then the organization has provided more than $500 million worth of food assistance in the country in both development and emergency operations. Currently, WFP is reaching nearly 4 million people per month in Syria with vital food assistance, and is helping hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled into neighboring countries. In order to reach areas that have been hard hit by the fighting, WFP has been working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and 23 other local organizations. This year, WFP plans to assist 2.9 million people in Syria’s neighboring countries, mostly through food vouchers, which allow families to choose their own food and help boost the local economy. By the end of the year WFP aims to reach 300,000 vulnerable children with additional ready-to-eat supplementary products to prevent and treat malnutrition.

WFP’s Syrian country director, Matthew Hollingworth, is an alumnus of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs’ first International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA). Recently, Hollingworth spoke to the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in a video interview about the ongoing work of WFP in Syria as part of a larger story on the suffering civilians in the city of Aleppo. According to Hollingworth, WFP feeds nearly four million people every month. The rations are enough for a family of five to survive on for a month and include “iodized salt, vegetable oil, pasta, canned beans, dried beans, rice, wheat flour, etc.” Speaking of the importance of WFP’s work and mission, Hollingworth explains that “for many of the people you will have met who have been displaced two, three, four, five times over the last three years of war, this is the mainstay of everything that they can give to their families. Without this there is no question that we would start to see really serious cases of malnutrition.” One of the main challenges that Hollingworth addresses in his interview is accessing all of the people who are in need. He notes that one of the biggest difficulties in humanitarian assistance currently is the politicization of aid, “One of the biggest difficulties we have these days is that humanitarian assistance is being politicized, and there is too much talk of where people are living – are they living on the opposition side? Are they living on the government side? I mean I think essentially the whole discussion of bad citizen good citizen just on where they happen to be seeking refuge is a toxic one and one that we have to get past.” The rest of the interview can be found on the BBC website in the article “Syria Conflict: the suffering civilians of West Aleppo” under the heading Caught in the Middle.

 

Updated 7/7/14

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