Information and news about syria

Syrian Children Refugees
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, there have been mass casualties, millions of displaced citizens and uncertainty about the country’s future.  According to the UNHCR, the war has forced nearly 5.7 million Syrians to find refuge in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, more than half of whom are children. In total, the UNHCR estimates that more than 13 million Syrians have been displaced or forced to leave the country. With the disruption of the war, Syrian children refugees are at a higher risk for mental disorders like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Psychosocial Problems

A 2015 UNHCR review suggests that Syrian refugee children have heightened psychosocial problems such as fear, grieving, withdrawal, hyperactivity, warlike play and behavioral problems. According to a UNICEF report in 2019, there were 8 million Syrian children in need of resources and 10,000 unaccompanied or separated children.

Providing mental health treatment for Syrian children refugees is no easy feat. With refugees spread out among several countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Germany and Turkey and with some still residing in Syria, it is difficult to know just how many children need help.

However, providing mental health treatment for Syrian children refugees is a necessary and time-sensitive issue. The disruptions of the war have created barriers to physical and mental health and could affect generations to come.

Current Treatments and Organizations

As of now, countries around the world offer mental health support for Syrian children. For example, the UNHCR uses a community-based approach to provide the most helpful mental health treatment for Syrian children refugees in different areas. Its child protection programming assists Syrian children in counseling, recreational activities and life skills.

Syrian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also provide care, although they mostly operate outside the country. Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) provides mental health and psychosocial support in Syria and in host countries, such as Jordan and Turkey. It manages eight safe spaces for women and girls in northwest Syria, where counselors provide support for those gender-based violence affects.

However, despite efforts at the local, national and international levels, many Syrian children refugees lack mental health resources. There are many overlapping reasons for the lack of resources, ranging from burnout among mental health officials to financial barriers, medication or supplies.

What Experts Recommend

Experts in medicine, psychosocial support and individuals working closely with the Syrian mental health crisis have proposed several new avenues for helping Syrian children. Isra Hussain, a research assistant and program coordinator with the Global Health Policy Center, pushes for a “multilayered system of response.” Instead of only providing basic mental-health resources, Hussein suggests a coordinated approach involving local officials, public and private organizations and humanitarian agencies.

The American Psychological Association proposes a three-step intervention for Syrian refugee children: culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services, providing services at the client’s preferred location and having trained professionals who can detect mental health difficulties in refugee children.

Apart from direct mental health counseling, Michelle L. Burbage and Deborah Klein Walker with the National Academy of Medicine urge more social and community support for Syrian refugee children. In addition to adjusting support according to different cultural backgrounds and social influences, Burbage and Walker emphasize community outreach and health education to engage Syrian children refugees in mental health programs.

Looking Forward

As the Syrian war continues, more children will undergo life-changing events and potentially traumatizing experiences. It could eventually fall upon the children now to sustain the country’s economy and infrastructure. As many health experts have suggested, it is imperative to address the humanitarian and mental health crisis at hand and look for possible solutions.

– Anna Lee
Photo: Flickr

Fight Against Cholera
Syria is in the midst of a cholera outbreak that has resulted in more than 75 deaths as of October 2022. Infecting more than 20,000 people, the current outbreak is spreading throughout Syria’s 14 governorates and bordering countries. Fortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other U.N. agencies are currently mitigating the issue by creating treatment centers, providing chlorine dosages, and raising awareness about sanitation practices. To better understand the crisis, here are five facts about Syria’s fight against cholera.

5 Facts About Syria’s Fight Against Cholera

  1. Syria’s water crisis initiated the outbreak. Many researchers have linked the outbreak to the Euphrates and a lack of effective water infrastructure. According to UNICEF, Syria’s decades of war have resulted in the destruction of effective water and sanitation systems, causing 47% of Syrians to depend on alternative water sources. Seeing as how 70% of Syria’s “discharged sewage is untreated,” millions of people are at risk for catching diseases such as cholera. In addition to a lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, Syria faces undeveloped power supplies and annual droughts, further exacerbating the water crisis. As more households draw unsafe water from the Euphrates and resort to untreated, alternative water sources, Syria’s fight against cholera is going to become more difficult to control.
  2. Turkish troops control the water flow. In addition to the natural and historical causes of Syria’s water crisis, the politics behind the crisis has hindered water from flowing to certain towns, perpetuating sanitation issues and diseases across regions. Numerous Turkish troops occupy strips of land in northeast Syria and Turkish officials have “practically turned off the spigots.” As a result, Syrians must fight for limited water from wells, exacerbating sanitation issues and directly contributing to the spread of cholera.
  3. Contaminated food is exacerbating the crisis. Untreated water carrying cholera has made vegetables more prone to contamination. Because food is already scarce in Syria, households are often willing to buy contaminated vegetables just to satisfy their hunger. Thus, millions of people are consuming contaminated vegetables, spreading cholera to their families and communities.
  4. The cholera outbreak has spread to neighboring countries. Because of its proximity to Syria, Lebanon is facing the consequences of Syria’s cholera outbreak. As of late October, Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Health recorded 803 cholera cases and 11 deaths, with children under 14 making up the majority of the cases. Similarly, Iraq has seen a rise in cholera cases, and authorities also fear that Jordan will face a similar outbreak.
  5. The Syrian health ministry is currently mitigating the issue. Fortunately, the Syrian health ministry, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, is working to alleviate the crisis. Public health officials have created camps in high-risk areas, delivered 4,000 diagnostic tests and increased response capacity to protect Syrian communities. Furthermore, organizations are actively strengthening border inspection measures to prevent the cholera outbreak from spreading to more neighboring countries.

Looking Ahead

Although Syria and Lebanon continue to experience thousands of new cases daily, health ministries, WHO and non-governmental agencies are facilitating Syria’s fight against cholera. As more organizations partner to combat cholera, there is hope that the outbreak will begin to slow down.

– Emma He
Photo: Unsplash

Homs Yeast FactoryThe war in Syria has resulted in the destruction of important infrastructure including factories that produced yeast essential for making bread. The yeast would then be delivered to bakeries who use it to bake bread to sell to the people. However, because of the war, the only operating yeast factory is the one at Homs but it is producing less yeast than before due to reduced resources. Nevertheless, on June 1, 2022, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced that it will use its resources to rebuild the Homs factory so it can produce as much yeast as before the war. UNDP’s heroic efforts to rebuild the Homs yeast factory are an illustration of a modern-day success story.

This story is more inspiring when looking at the mechanical details of the Homs yeast factory before and after UNDP’s intervention. Before UNDP’s intervention, the yeast factory in Homs produced “only six to 10 tonnes of yeast” every day. This is 5% to 9% of the amount before the war started. But with the intervention, the UNDP is aiming to have the Homs factory produce “24 tonnes of yeast daily” to give to the bakeries in Syria so they can bake and sell bread to Syrians. This is an ambitious goal to achieve especially since the quality of life in Syria has deteriorated sharply in the 12 years since the war started.

Current Poverty Rate and Food Insecurity in Syria

The war in Syria has devastated the lives of ordinary Syrians with the poverty rate increasing and food insecurity worsening. This makes UNDP’s heroic efforts to rebuild the Homs yeast factory more uplifting. The number of Syrians living in poverty has reached nearly 90% of the population in the whole country as of June 1, 2022, according to a press release published on ReliefWeb.

Furthermore, as of June 1, 2022, the percentage of the population struggling with food insecurity is at a “historic highs with an estimated 60%.” Therefore, the UNDP is facing many obstacles in tackling food insecurity in Syria by rebuilding the Homs factory, which requires sophisticated solutions. Nevertheless, the UNDP has the necessary strategies to successfully reconstruct the Homs factory so it can feed more Syrians just like before the war started.

How the UNDP is Rebuilding the Homs Yeast Factory

UNDP’s heroic efforts to rebuild the Homs yeast factory are possible because of the meticulous plan the UNDP formulated within the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan. Technical assessments conducted by the UNDP on June 1, 2022, show that nearly $1 million is needed in order to reconstruct the Homs yeast factory.

UNDP is planning to allocate 80% of the $1 million to “the technical rehabilitation of yeast processing,” according to U.N. News. Twenty percent of that $1 million UNDP plans to spend on “packaging equipment, factory safety and hygiene standards.” The UNDP plan’s intended goal is to be able to feed 3 million more Syrians who cannot afford bread currently.

Nationwide Efforts to Distribute Bread to Syrians

Reducing poverty and food insecurity in Syria is not strictly dependent on UNDP’s heroic efforts to rebuild the Homs yeast factory. The interim government in Syria announced on May 19, 2022, that it “prohibited the export or transport of any of the strategic crops,” such as wheat. The reason is that prohibiting exports of wheat and other strategic crops would “achieve food security in the liberated areas.”

Furthermore, on June 13, 2022, the interim government in Syria has also been “working on a plan to purchase large quantities of grains,” from Syrian local farmers. That way, the interim government can “boost stocks needed to produce bread,” Al-Monitor reported. The efforts of the interim government, if successful, are complementary to UNDP’s work on rebuilding the Homs yeast factory which produces materials necessary for making bread.

Looking Ahead

UNDP’s energetic efforts to rebuild the Homs yeast factory highlight an international determination to help Syrians. It is commonly heard that the world is forgetting about Syria because of the longevity of the war. However, the UNDP’s hard work, planning and investment in rebuilding the factory shows that the world has not only not forgotten about Syrians, but is coming up with clever solutions to save them. International relations analysts usually ask whether the U.N. has lost its credibility because of its inability to end the Syrian war. The UNDP story proves that the U.N. is still credible and capable of saving lives despite the odds.

– Abdullah Dowaihy
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid to Syria
Syria, a country once a destination known for its breathtaking scenery and rich culture, remains devastated by a decade-plus long civil war. The Syrian civil war, which began as a peaceful uprising in 2011, has led to about half a million deaths as of 2022. The conflict occurs between the Syrian government, rebel groups, the Islamic State (IS) and foreign countries —  some that side with the government and others that side with the rebel groups. Unfortunately, more than 11 years of intense fighting have taken its toll on the approximately 17.5 million people who live in Syria today. Many international organizations have committed to giving foreign aid to Syria as the vast majority of Syrians require foreign aid for their survival. Crucially, violence and destruction within the country affect the impoverished most severely.

The Need for Aid

According to a March 2022 report provided by the United Nations (U.N.) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), today, about 90% of Syrians live in poverty and more than 80% endure food insecurity. Access to food security, sanitation and health care has become a major issue as a consequence of the civil war. Foreign aid to Syria seeks to combat many of these issues.

According to USAID, roughly 75% of Syrians today are specifically in need of humanitarian foreign aid. Aid can come in the form of food, health care supplies or other basic commodities. The U.N. suggests that cross-border aid, which includes helping people cross the border and transporting aid directly into the country, must remain active. In late May of 2022, the U.N. Syria Commission called on the Security Council to ensure that the border remains open so that organizations can provide the necessary aid.

Currently, there is only one authorized border crossing into Syria, known as Bab al-Hawa, between Northwest Syria and Turkey. Foreign aid requires this crossing to be open so that goods and services can reach the country. Moreover, the U.N. estimates that nearly 15 million people across the country rely on foreign aid. In certain parts of the country, the number of people receiving aid can be even higher, particularly in more conflict-riddled regions.

Of the many forms in which aid can come, food and health care are the most typical and most vital. Food prices are rising while food availability diminishes. Foreign aid can be partially helpful in bringing food supplies to people who either do not have adequate access to food or cannot afford it.

Suppliers of Aid

The largest suppliers of foreign aid to Syria are the European Commission, part of the European Union (EU), which has supplied more than $140 million so far in 2022, and the United States, which gave nearly $15 billion from 2012 to 2022. In addition, the United Nations plays a large role in the delivery of aid to Syria. The U.N.’s food-assistance branch, the World Food Programme (WFP), estimates that 5.6 million Syrians receive aid from the WFP monthly. The process of bringing foreign aid to Syria is a worldwide effort, yet challenges remain severe.

Challenges

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations stated that civilian attacks and attacks on hospitals thwart international aid efforts. Limited access to the country combined with precarious and violent conditions once inside present challenges in transporting aid. The widespread and persistent issues that the Syrian people face, including recurring displacement, make foreign aid even more difficult to circulate. Another challenge is that violence and disturbances in other parts of the world, such as in Ukraine at the moment, place Syria in a somewhat less visible role on the international stage. In particular, a shortage of products, such as oil and wheat from Ukraine, has caused disruptions in Syrian aid programs.

Moving Forward

The current exception, which allows aid to cross the Bab al-Hawa border in Northwest Syria, the last open border into Syria, is set to expire on July 10, 2022. That border opening is a result of a rare policy exception that the U.N. Security Council issued in 2014, which contradicted the Syrian government’s wish to not have foreign interference in Syria. The Security Council resolution required the border at Bab al-Hawa to remain open, which has brought necessary aid to Syria for the past eight years.

Many international organizations, including the U.N. and the EU, believe that this channel is necessary for aid to make its way into Syria. The U.N. Security Council needs to vote to extend the exception before the July deadline to ensure that aid can reach the Syrians in need. Those tracking foreign aid to Syria are hopeful that, if the resolution is extended, the border will continue operating at the status quo and aid will continue to cross the northwest border.

– Lara Drinan
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Syria The civil war in Syria began in March 2011, greatly impacting the lives of those who live in and around the country of Syria. With the United Nations noting a staggering poverty rate of 90% in March 2021, the people of Syria are struggling to secure their basic needs. Rising levels of food insecurity in Syria are of particular concern, a consequence of the conflict within the nation. According to the United Nations, in 2021, 60% of Syrians were at risk of hunger, “the highest number ever in the history of the Syrian conflict.”

The Numbers

According to an August 2021 World Food Programme (WFP) country brief, 12.4 million people in Syria suffer from food insecurity. This number rose by 4.5 million since the previous year, marking a record high. The onset of COVID-19 served to exacerbate food insecurity and poverty, compounding existing issues of “years of conflict, displacement, soaring food prices and a decline in the value of the Syrian” currency. The cost of essential food “is now 29 times higher” than it was before the civil war began. Due to worsening conditions in the nation, 1.3 million people in Syria are suffering from severe food insecurity. The conflict and war have also led to the displacement of 6.8 million people, serving as another contributing factor to growing food insecurity in Syria.

War and conflict within Syria also affect crops and harvests. A study published by Nature Food in January 2022 uses satellite data to shows that cropland near urban settlements suffered severe disruption after the start of the Syrian civil war. The areas that saw the most cropland reduction are the northwest and southeast. The issue of food insecurity becomes greater when the people of Syria can no longer grow their own crops.

Emergency Food Assistance

According to USAID, 11.7 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, 9 million of whom “require emergency food assistance.” Some 65% of Syrians have restricted their food consumption and are now “purchasing food on credit.” This means going into debt to feed their families. USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP) has donated “more than $3.2 billion in emergency food assistance [to Syria] since 2012.” This includes $401.8 million in 2017, $514.6 million in 2018 and another $475.4 million in 2019.

WFP is also providing assistance to the people of Syria. It provides food assistance to 4.8 million people on a monthly basis. This food assistance includes “rice, pulses, oil and wheat.” The WFP also provides pregnant and nursing mothers with “nutritious food” as well as vouchers to help maintain their nutritional needs and improve their diets and vitamin intake. In addition, WFP provides school children with the nutritional food they need. The organization has given “vouchers to more than 348,000 students” to ensure they receive “snacks, fresh meals and assistance.” The crisis in Syria is concerning enough that WFP fundraises hundreds of thousands of emergency funds for its various food emergency initiatives.

Addressing the Crisis

The people of Syria continue to face difficult times during the ongoing civil war. Syrians have lost their homes, family members and access to food during this time. Food insecurity in Syria is at an all-time high, with millions going hungry every day. Citizens’ struggles to grow crops only add to the food insecurity. However, with the help of the FFP and WFP, millions of people in Syria are receiving food assistance. Women and children also benefit from these programs by receiving food and vitamins. These programs offer a great example of how the international community can contribute to food insecurity emergencies around the world.

– Sierrah Martin
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in Syria
In June 2021, the United Nations released its yearly 2020 report on children in armed conflict, confirming the ongoing recruitment of children by various Syrian militant groups. These groups include the Syrian National Army, the Syrian Democratic Forces, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and other Syrian armed opposition groups. By June 2021, militant groups recruited almost 840 children to work as child soldiers in Syria, among other roles, meaning child soldier numbers will likely increase by the end of the year.

Child Soldiers in Syria

With conflict raging since 2011, these groups turn to child populations to manage their shortage of combatants. By exploiting children in impoverished communities, groups use adults and other child victims to coerce and manipulate children into joining the armed forces. The child soldiers in Syria become spies, combatants and checkpoint guards, among other roles, enduring sexual exploitation and harsh military punishments. By using children as combatants, these groups continue to violate international laws with few repercussions.

Syrian Democratic Forces

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has a long history as a critical perpetrator of recruiting child soldiers in Syria. In 2019, the SDF signed a United Nations Action Plan intending to prevent the use of child soldiers, making it appear as though the SDF was attempting to adhere to international law. Under this plan, anyone younger than the age of 18 would be unable to join the SDF.

However, the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center reported that the SDF continues to recruit young boys and girls, some as young as age 11. Additionally, a U.N. report in April 2021 explains that the SDF and its branches are responsible for about 35% of confirmed child recruitments in Northern Syria.

Due to the United Nations Action Plan and international pressure, the SDF is increasingly reuniting recruited children with their families, but only after those specific families put constant pressure on the SDF. Since the creation of the SDF’s Child Protection Office, families have complained about the issue of child soldier recruitment 150 times. However, as of March 2021, the SDF has only demobilized 50 children. In December 2020, the SDF held a press conference, reuniting 16-year-old S. Jam Harran and 15-year-old G. Muhyiddin with their families.

Law No. 21 – Child Rights Law

On Aug. 15, 2021, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad presented Law No. 21 to regulate child rights and welfare throughout the country. The law prohibits the practice of trafficking children, including the use of child soldiers in Syria. The government will take action in response to reports of such practices but does not mention specifics in this regard. While this legislation seems like a significant step in the right direction, many groups, such as the Syrian Accountability and Justice Center, are skeptical about the law’s true ability to end the militant groups’ use of child soldiers. This is due to the existence of a vast number of groups that recruit children, including the Syrian government.

Addressing the Issue of Child Soldiers

Despite the skeptics, the new Syrian legislation on child rights and welfare is a promising step for children throughout the country. Enforcing these new laws nationally will take time, but various groups are working to alleviate the current child soldier situation until then.

UNICEF is responsible for aiding more than 8,700 children following their release from armed forces globally through counseling, education, medical services and safe living arrangements. These rehabilitation and poverty-fighting efforts allow for proper healing from trauma, allowing these children to become functioning members of society. Additionally, UNICEF specifically aids Syrian children, thus impacting communities directly by assisting in medical care, education and improving living situations.

In reducing the number of child soldiers in Syria, the investment by wealthy nations through humanitarian aid may be the most powerful tool as those countries could positively influence local dynamics by helping to lift populations out of extreme poverty. Armed groups have a more difficult time recruiting educated children from stable environments. Nonprofits like Save the Children work to aid impoverished child populations. Save the Children establishes programs and services for families to develop economic stability, preventing child exploitation by increasing the standard of living.

Because children are one of the most at-risk populations, militant groups often use them to sustain extreme military operations through indoctrination and community approval. With emerging Syrian legislation and organizations tackling the issue of child soldiers in Syria, the future of Syrian child welfare could be moving in a positive direction. These efforts combined with international advocacy and education on the issue of child use by armed forces could significantly change the lives of children in Syria.

– Hannah Eliason
Photo: Unsplash

Vaccines in SyriaDuring the Eid holidays, the number of border crossings in and out of Syria drastically increased. As a result of such rising travel, the subsequent transmission of COVID-19 and reported cases additionally increased. With the remnants of the aforementioned influx continuing into late August and September 2021, vaccines in Syria are desperately needed, due to Syria being home to one of the fastest increasing rates of infection in the world. Thus, the early September shipment of over 358,000 vaccinations from WHO Turkey came as a welcome respite.

A Broken Healthcare System

As Syria nears the peak of its second infection curve, outside reporters and internal government agents look back at the path that brought Syria to its position of viral precarity. Syria entered the pandemic in a state of civil war that suffered the healthcare system as the most severe casualty. Since the inception of the Syrian civil war, there have been nearly 600 documented attacks on medical facilities. Of these, Physicians for Human Rights attributes over 90% to the state government. As a result of such unabashed violence, nearly 70% of healthcare workers fled the country. The shortage of workers placed yet another strain on an already damaged healthcare infrastructure. Such was the initial state of Syrian healthcare at the genesis of COVID-19.

A Worsening Crisis

Syria, the home to the largest population of Internationally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the world, found itself massively unprepared for the ills of COVID-19. In the Northwest, nearly 4 million IDPs were equipped with a total of 212 ICU beds designated for pandemic patients. Such a dearth of medical supplies represented the norm across nearly all of Syria.

According to the WHO, COVID-19 transmission in IDP camps increased 200% since August 2021, with over 1,000 new daily cases. Dramatically ill-equipped to address the initial wave of COVID-19, this infrastructure proved similarly ill-equipped for the dissemination of vaccines.

Early estimates of the Syrian government’s capacity to vaccinate its population suggest that as of October 2021, only 2.6% have received both doses. At such a pace, the medical system would require a further 490 days simply to achieve a 10% vaccinated threshold. These predictions arrive in tandem with Syria’s highest infection rate to date, with a daily average of 347 reported on October 20.

New Vaccines, New Hope

Amidst all of this difficulty, NGOs and global organizations such as WHO and the U.N. have sought to aid nations struggling to vaccinate their citizens. One example is the shipment of over 358,000 vaccinations from WHO Turkey, a much-welcomed respite in Syria. In early September 2021, WHO reported the delivery of these vaccines to Northwest Syria by way of the Adana airport. These doses represent more than double the number of previously administered vaccines before their arrival. This arrival resulted from a collaboration between WHO Turkey, UNICEF and the Syrian Immunization Groups.  Their massively helpful collaboration presents just one example of the necessity of international aid in vaccinating the global population, and subsequently, beating this pandemic.

– Jonah Stern
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual ProductsAmid conflict and war, Syrian women face a forgotten but significant issue: a lack of access to menstrual products. Despite its natural occurrence, periods are a source of shame and taboo in many countries, including Syria. Those living under siege in Syria are forced to live without basic necessities such as clean water and feminine hygiene products.

Huda’s Story

An article in the Independent newspaper details the interview of a 23-year-old named Huda living in a small village called Saqba, outside of Damascus, under strict government siege since 2013. She explains that there are hardly any menstrual products available for citizens of Saqba; any products available are marketed with prices so high that women are forced to choose between pads and food. As a result, Huda decided to use an old rag she found instead of buying menstrual products. This decision ultimately led to gynecological infections. Evidently, this is an issue that comes with deadly consequences, especially because many Syrians cannot afford proper medical treatment. Those who can afford to see one of the few gynecologists in the area will be prescribed medicine, a commodity usually unavailable in sieged regions.

The Alternative

More than 860,000 Syrians live under government siege, lacking basic necessities such as menstrual products and food. The shortage has led to the adoption of “the traditional method,” meaning women reuse old rags, pieces of mattress or even moss and grass as an alternative to menstrual products. The lack of clean water or fuel to boil water has also made it impossible to clean these rags properly, leading to infections.

Along with menstrual products, cramps are a source of distress for a majority of women who have periods. Without access to painkillers or heating pads, women are sometimes confined to bed rest or in constant agony during their period. Additionally, Global One conducted a study in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria and found that almost 60% of Syrian females do not even have access to underwear. An even higher amount do not have access to feminine hygiene products.

The Taboo of Periods

The taboo of periods has only added to the mounting struggles that Syrian women face surrounding their menstrual cycles. In the Independent newspaper, many interviewed Syrian women even asked to be referred to under a pseudo name to protect their reputation while discussing their periods. To add to this, the anxiety of war and loss can lead to skipped periods or more heavy bleeding, further exacerbating the issue.

Many women in refugee or displacement camps do not leave their homes due to fear or shame; this fear intensifies when they do not have any menstrual products or a way to hide the bleeding. This can lead to social isolation and difficulty integrating into society. In addition, lacking access to menstrual products not only impacts women physically but can also affect their mental health.

Aid Packages

Many aid packages sent to Syria now include sanitary items. However, it is still not enough to help the millions of Syrian women in desperate need of these essential menstrual products. Along with this, sieged areas have limited access, with many nonprofit organizations unable to gain entrance to areas under government control. In 2016, the United Nations Children’s Agency successfully delivered 84,000 pads to Syrian women. While this seems like a significant amount, it hardly scratches the surface of the necessary amount of menstrual products.

An estimate from 2016 assumed that if one-third of the sieged population (860,000 as of 2016) were female, they would need more than 10 million pads annually. According to the World Bank, in 2020, 49% of the Syrian population was female. Since the sieged population has increased, the need for sanitary products is more prominent than ever.

The main obstacle in the path to safe menstrual hygiene for Syrian women is that many people do not view menstrual products as a priority, mainly because it only affects women.

Days for Girls to the Rescue

An organization in Lebanon has spearheaded an initiative to give these women a safe and affordable way to obtain menstrual products. Days for Girls (DFG), founded by Celeste Mergens in 2008, supports girls who do not have access to sanitary pads. The organization reaches 128 countries, the first location being Lebanon. These efforts focus on helping the 1.14 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Not only does DFG provide sanitary pads for girls who need them but it also helps provide young women with a source of income by educating girls on pad production lines during an eight-day training session. The training aids young women by giving them a stable source of income and specialized skills that they can use in the future.

Arguably, one of the most significant impacts of DFG is battling the stigma that surrounds menstruation and teaching girls that periods are not a source of shame. DFG also focuses on creating reusable cloth pads that can last up to three years, helping reduce the amount of waste created by pad disposal. This benefits both the environment and the Syrian refugees in need of feminine hygiene products.

Ending Period Poverty in Syria

While the situation may seem bleak, organizations like DFG are continuously working to help Syrian women obtain the help they need. Through efforts made by DFG and others with similar missions as well as raising awareness of the issues, the international community can eradicate period poverty in Syria.

– Mariam Abaza
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty In SyriaFor the past decade, Syria has been the center of a brutal civil war. As a result, millions of Syrians face the everyday threats of violence, hunger and disease that wartime poverty brings about. Those most vulnerable to the effects of poverty include Syria’s children. A closer look at child poverty in Syria provides insight into the lives of Syrian children.

10 Facts About Child Poverty in Syria

  1. Roughly six million Syrian children rely on humanitarian assistance. Syrian children are among the most vulnerable groups in the Syrian civil war. The war has affected more than 11.1 million Syrians, almost half of whom are children.
  2. Children are unable to attend school. The civil war greatly fuels child poverty in Syria. As parents struggle to afford to send their children to school, many teachers are unpaid and destitute school buildings are collapsing. Nearly 2.5 million Syrian children are unable to attend school. This number does not include the 750,000 displaced Syrian children in nearby countries who also have no access to education. According to World Vision, the Syrian conflict has “reversed two decades of educational progress.”
  3. More than half of all Syrian children suffer from hunger. An estimated 60% of the nation’s children are suffering from hunger and 28% endure stunting as a consequence of malnutrition. The percentage of Syrian people suffering from food insecurity is currently the highest it has ever been since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. With 6.2 million children currently living in hunger, the numbers are only rising, having increased by roughly 35% from November 2020 to February 2021.
  4. Child labor is increasing. Faced with the threat of extreme child poverty in Syria, many school-aged boys drop out of school to support their families. These boys regularly work in unsafe situations for little pay. The research study “Survey on Child Labour in Agriculture in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon: The Case of Syrian Refugees” provides statistics on Syrian child labor. The 2019 study concluded that about 70% of Syrian refugee “children between 4 and 18 years old” were employed, “with an average age of 12.9 years.” Additionally, about 75% of these children worked in the agricultural sector. In this sector, about 30% of working children have experienced injuries.
  5. Boys are targets for child soldiers. As boys drop out of school to support their families, they are at higher risk of being recruited as child soldiers. With no income to provide for their children, many families resort to sending their young boys for training as child soldiers, believing that it is the best option. In 2021 alone, almost 840 children were recruited as child soldiers, among other roles, with 797 of these children being boys.
  6. Child marriage is rampant. Many families resort to child marriage to solve their economic situations. Sexual abuse of young girls also runs rampant in crowded refugee camps. Desperate to save their daughters from “child trafficking and sexual exploitation” and unable to economically provide for their children, many families arrange marriages for teenage girls. Out of girls aged 15-19, about 3.8% give birth every year.
  7. Weather has significant impacts. Millions of displaced and homeless children in Northwest Syria face brutal winters. Their only shelter from the harsh cold is often a tent or severely damaged and unsafe buildings that serve as emergency shelters. Roughly 75% of all Syrian children killed in 2020 came from this part of the country.
  8. COVID-19 exacerbates poverty: The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated child poverty in Syria. In addition to the 11.1 million Syrians already in need of urgent humanitarian aid, an additional 1.1 million Syrians have found themselves in poverty as a consequence of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also caused the gross domestic product to fall by up to 15% in the nation’s nearby countries, meaning that Syrian refugees seeking refuge in neighboring countries have fallen further into poverty.
  9. Infrastructure is failing. Only 53% of hospitals are currently in service, greatly adding to child poverty in Syria. Since the start of the war, more than 25,000 children have been killed, a number that is only increasing due to limited healthcare services and lack of access to clean water.
  10. Children are vulnerable to diseases. Poor sanitation caused by a lack of infrastructure, resources and clean water makes Syrian children vulnerable to cholera and other diarrheal diseases. The lack of accessible healthcare means many children miss their regular health checkups. Extremely cold weather in the northwest part of Syria also makes children susceptible to pneumonia.

Addressing Child Poverty in Syria

To address the issue of child poverty in Syria, UNICEF has sent humanitarian assistance on the ground. UNICEF’s efforts focus on children’s education, health and sanitation, among other goals. In 2020 alone, UNICEF “screened 2.6 million Syrian children and women for acute malnutrition,” improved water services for 3.2 million people and vaccinated roughly 2.6 million children against polio. UNICEF also “supported 2.2 million children with education services in formal settings.”

While the conflict in Syria continues, vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected. The efforts of UNICEF ensure the protection and well-being of millions of Syrian children, reducing child poverty in Syria.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Unsplash

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Lebanon is currently experiencing an economic crisis that, according to the World Bank, is one of the most severe economic crises worldwide since the 19th century. The impact of the crisis is widespread. More than 70% of Lebanon’s population currently lacks access to basic necessities such as food. Not even the wealthy are insulated from the impact of the current crisis, as previously affluent families are being pushed into poverty. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are particularly vulnerable to the crisis.

The Status of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Approximately 1.7 million refugees are believed to be living in Lebanon as of 2020, with 1.5 million originating from Syria. Of these Syrian refugees, more than 80% are not legal residents, placing them in a precarious position. Syrians who have legal status either entered the country before 2015 or have a sponsor in the country. These Syrians must also pay a $200 fee every year. Lebanon practices non-refoulement of refugees, which should protect the right of Syrian refugees to live in Lebanon. However, the Lebanese government implemented policies that streamlined the process for Syrians to leave Lebanon in 2020 and expressed interest in having Syrian refugees return to their country of origin.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon often struggle to access services such as educational opportunities despite having the legal right to attend public schools. Because they typically live in temporary or informal housing, it can be difficult for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to locate Syrian refugees in order to help them. Factors such as language barriers can also present a challenge to Syrian refugees. Approximately 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live on less than half of the Lebanese minimum wage.

Syrian Refugees in the Lebanese Economic Crisis

Due to political instability, debt, banking problems and economic stagnation, Lebanon entered its current crisis in October 2019. Prior to October 2019, approximately 55% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon lived in poverty, demonstrating that the Syrian refugee community needed support even prior to the crisis. Today, approximately 90% of Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty, showing a significant increase in poverty levels during the economic crisis.

As poverty levels among Syrian refugees in Lebanon increased, the value of Lebanon’s currency, the Lebanese pound, decreased. Between 2019 and 2021, Lebanese food prices increased by 402%. Consequently, Syrian refugees who generally struggled to afford basic necessities prior to the start of the crisis now have even less purchasing power. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are accumulating debt because they lack the funds to buy everyday necessities. Even for Syrian refugees who can afford everyday necessities, accessing products, such as medication, is proving difficult as pharmacies face shortages.

Not all refugees are equally impacted by the crisis. Syrian refugee households headed by women experience disproportionately high rates of food insecurity. Children in these households are particularly vulnerable to the crisis. Unfortunately, Lebanese child labor rates nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020. Additionally, the rate of child labor is higher in Syrian refugee households headed by women than in households run by men.

The economic crisis is also contributing to anti-refugee sentiments. Prior to the start of the crisis, Lebanese politicians used the pending economic crisis to justify anti-refugee rhetoric. As economic conditions deteriorate for the entire country, native Lebanese people blame Syrian refugees for taking their opportunities away.

Providing Aid for Refugees

Several organizations provide support for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are longstanding aid providers for refugees living in Lebanon. UNHCR Lebanon has prioritized humanitarian assistance to Syrians through cash cards, vouchers and ATM cards in order for them to secure basic necessities at local markets. These purchases, in turn, stimulate the local economy. In 2018, the UNHCR provided cash support of $175 per month to nearly 33,000 Syrian households. Similarly, the WFP provides food assistance to Syrian refugees and struggling Lebanese by providing e-cards credited with $27 at the start of each month so that individuals can buy food from local stores.

As poverty increases in the country, the need for aid to the general population is increasing. With cities such as Tripoli facing poverty rates as high as 85% among their residents, the Lebanese government is focusing on providing widespread relief for the population. The Lebanese parliament recently approved measures to support more than half a million families in Lebanon, fortunately including Syrian refugees.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr