SYRIA — A COUNTRY THAT’S BEEN FORGOTTEN ON THE BRINK OF COLLAPSE

By Vincent Lyn

Atarib Northwestern Town in Syria completely destroyed. Here children eat for Ramadan. A meal reunites an obliterated community

March 15th 2021 will make 10 years since the start of the Syrian Civil War, a grim milestone of the Syrian conflict. This tragic commemoration of 10 years of this brutal conflict is being compounded by the fact that throughout the West, the suffering of the Syrian people is being forgotten and ignored. A poll commissioned by Syria relief today reveals that almost 2 in 5 people aren’t aware that the Syrian conflict is still happening, when the reality is, for Syrians, the situation is getting worse.

With an economy already on the brink of collapse and a shocking devaluation of the Syrian pound — hitting 3,600 pounds to the dollar this month and rising— the COVID-19 pandemic has come at an exceptionally dangerous time in Syria.

Beyond the health and humanitarian consequences, the pandemic has further crippled the Syrian economy and shut down parts of the food supply chain. The U.N. World Food Programme recently announced that food prices in the country were 250 percent higher than just a year ago. In order to stave off hunger, Syrians are increasingly turning to their contacts and families abroad to send remittances. The more desperate are reportedly selling their organs.

In Sweida, economic woes led to the protest movement Bidna Na’aesh (“We Want to Live”) at the start of the year, following the suicide of a deeply impoverished man who threw himself from President’s Bridge in Damascus. The movement’s singular demand was dignity, with improved quality of life and security, and it rejected both political and sectarian divisions. Indeed, the protests were made famous by individuals holding pieces of bread with the words Bidna Na’aesh written on them, a wordplay on ‘aesh, meaning both “bread” (in the Egyptian dialect) and “to live.” While these protests in Sweida were short-lived, they have recently been reinvigorated as the economic crisis has only deepened.

Similarly, in southern Syria, particularly in “reconciled” communities, unemployment is at an all-time high. In the years prior to the regime retaking control of the south, millions of dollars in international humanitarian and stabilization funds flowed into the region each month. Now deprived of these funds, these areas face exceptionally difficult times.

With a near decade-long conflict, extreme corruption, an economic crisis in neighboring Lebanon, and the implementation of the Caesar Act Sanctions, Syria was already teetering toward economic collapse. The pandemic and its consequent restrictions on business hours of operation and limits on movement have created the perfect economic storm with a much deeper (and more sudden) devaluation of the Syrian pound and an unprecedented spike in prices. In the fertile western countryside of Daraa, for example stringent curfews and increased prices of agricultural supplies and fuel forced farmers to stay home, drastically impacting food supplies and leading to further poverty and hunger.

Within Syria there are now over 80% of the population living in poverty, 9.3 million people are food insecure and a further 2.2 million are on the brink of becoming food insecure. 15.5 million Syrians lack the basic access to clean and hygienic water, something we take for granted. The healthcare system has been crippled, long-before COVID-19, and 2.4 million children are out of education. This is all mostly due to the deliberate and indiscriminate bombing of civilian life; homes, schools, hospitals, markets and vital infrastructure.

The global pandemic has further worsened the misery and suffering, Syrians are also facing spiraling inflation and growing unemployment. People are being priced out of affording basic items. Regular meals are a distant memory for many Syrians.

Whilst 6.2 million people remain internally displaced in Syria, 5.6 million Syrians are refugees in the neighboring countries, approximately half of whom are children. Many have to live in tents and makeshift huts, even during freezing temperatures in the winter.

The widespread human suffering isn’t a tragic symptom of this war, it has been an intentional tactic to achieve a military victory. A bomb landing on a hospital or a primary school is rarely a bomb which has missed its target — it’s a bomb which has hit its target. Forgetting about the Syrian conflict does not just result in the desperately poor Syrian people not receiving the humanitarian aid they rely on, it means less scrutiny on the military actors in this conflict, allowing them to continue to commit war crimes. Syrians cannot afford for us to treat this anniversary as a history lesson, otherwise their suffering will continue for another 10 years and more.

I want the world to know that the Syrian conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people is not history. It’s happening now and it will keep on happening unless action is taken.

Please keep my all friends and colleagues in Syria safe and healthy. Inshallah.

Vincent Lyn

CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations

Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency

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Vincent Lyn

Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)