Information and news about syria

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

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Syria
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria and other war-torn nations has been severe. Some countries have cut foreign aid to Syria amid the pandemic, which will greatly affect Syrians already living in dire circumstances. Other countries and organizations have increased aid, recognizing that now more than ever, foreign aid is urgently needed in Syria.

The Crisis in Syria in Numbers

During the pandemic, many Syrians have lost sources of income. A drastic rise in food prices and a drop in the value of the Syrian pound are further exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis. In 2020:

  • About 4.5 million people became food insecure, bringing the total to about 12.4 million food-insecure people, nearly 60% of the population.
  • Food prices in Syria increased by 236%.
  • The poverty rate increased to a staggering 90%.
  • Roughly 24 million people require humanitarian aid to survive.

Decreased Foreign Aid

Global economic struggles have led to cuts in foreign aid budgets across the globe. At a March 2021 Brussels donor conference, the U.N. asked countries to pledge $10 billion to alleviate the effects of the Syrian civil war, which the pandemic has further aggravated. The international community only pledged $6.4 billion in aid to Syria. A clear example of the impacts of reduced aid is apparent in the humanitarian relief efforts of the World Food Programme. The organization had to reduce food apportionments to Syrians by 30% in order “to stretch existing funding.”

Adding to aid concerns, the United Kingdom, normally a world leader in foreign aid, plans to donate almost 50% less in 2021 than it did in 2020. The cut has been met with much domestic and international backlash. However, other countries have dramatically increased aid. Germany’s 2021 pledge is its largest in four years, promising more than $2 billion worth of aid to Syria.

Organizations Aiding Syria

Funded by national governments and private donors, various organizations are working to alleviate the effects of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria. The World Food Programme (WFP), which provides food to nearly five million of Syria’s most vulnerable people every month, won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have started coordination and planning for the vaccines promised through COVAX to cover the priority 20% of the Syrian population. Boosting the low vaccination rate in Syria will undoubtedly help alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Syria.

The Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF) is also essential in coordinating aid. Since the U.N. created it in 2014, the SCHF has worked to increase the quality of humanitarian assistance in the country. It assigns funds to the NGOs and aid agencies best suited to meet shifting needs so that funding has the greatest reach and is utilized most effectively for the most significant impact.

The SCHF has already laid out its first “standard allocation” strategy for 2021, dividing the money among efforts that will improve living conditions, provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and foster long-term resilience by creating livelihood opportunities. Its “reserve allocation” sets aside funds to address unforeseen challenges that may arise.

The Road Ahead

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty and food insecurity in Syria. Due to the global economic crisis caused by COVID-19, there will likely be more gaps in humanitarian relief funding. Wealthier countries need to step in to assist more vulnerable countries during their greatest time of need. While organizations commit to helping Syrians most in need, support from the international community will ensure a stronger and more comprehensive response.

Hope Browne
Photo: Flickr

Solar Panels in SyriaSolar panels in Syria have shone a light on a dark corner of the country. In the Syrian province of Idlib, locals and refugees shield their eyes from the sun glinting off their solar panels. Even though solar panels are considered a luxury across the globe, the area of war-torn Idlib is full of solar panels. These solar panels are many citizens’ only source of electricity and heat.

Electricity Issues in Idlib

Idlib is also the stronghold of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which has been labeled a terrorist organization. Due to conflict, citizens of Idlib have struggled to get by. At first, after the Syrian government cut off power to the province due to the presence of HTS, residents relied upon fuel-powered generators for electricity. For years, people suffered through the noxious fumes and roaring strain of the generators’ motors.

As time went by, the fuel for the generators became far too expensive. Additionally, the unclean, locally-refined oil prompted frequent and expensive generator maintenance. In 2017, solar panels in Syria began to supplant generators as locals’ main source of electricity. However, locals did not use solar panels out of ecological concern. People just needed an affordable source of electricity because the fuel to power generators became prohibitively expensive.

The Solar Panel Solution

Locals value the solar panels in Syria despite a high initial investment cost. In interviews with The New York Times, many locals described the panels as “god-sent.” After the initial investment, solar panels are a virtually cost-free source of electricity. Thousands of locals now use solar panels to power their lights and electronics. On cold nights, the power of solar panels provides heat.

The Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

As of March 2021, 13.4 million people require humanitarian aid in Syria, representing about a 20% increase from 2020. In neighboring Jordan, just south of Syria, more than half a million people are living in exile: some in refugee camps, some outside in the elements. In Jordan, almost 80% of Syrian refugees were living under the national poverty line before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

In a March 2021 interview with Reuters, U.N. aid chief, Mark Lowcock, summarized the grim situation in Syria: “Things are getting worse. We’ve had a decade of death, destruction, displacement, disease, dread and despair.” He went on to add, though, that the United Nations was planning its largest-ever response strategy in order to safeguard lives in the region.

Foreign Aid to Syria

According to The New York Times, Germany provided many second-hand solar panels in Idlib. Germany has extended further assistance by pledging around $2 billion to go toward humanitarian aid in Syria. The U.S. and Qatar agreed to provide funding as well, pledging $600 million and $100 million respectively. While Britain’s pledge of around $281 million is lower than its pledge in 2020, the combined global assistance will make a significant difference in the lives of Syrians.

While the situation in Syria remains dire, the world’s eyes are on the region. With aid coming from all around the globe and solar panels lighting up homes in Idlib, there is both light and hope in Northwestern Syria.

Thomas McCall
Photo: Flickr

Tuba Büyüküstün with UNICEF
Tuba Büyüküstün is one of Turkey’s most famous and highest-paid actresses. Büyüküstün’s work in television and film has brought her both fame and critical acclaim. In fact, Büyüküstün has received five prestigious Televizyon Dizisi awards, in addition to a nomination for the International Emmy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “20 Dakika.” Moreover, the actress has a large social media following with 5.2 million Instagram followers. In recent years, Büyüküstün has used her celebrity status and online platform for humanitarian advocacy. More specifically, Tuba Büyüküstün has partnered with UNICEF to advocate for children’s health and development.

UNICEF’s Mission

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) began in 1946 to provide aid to countries recovering from World War II. The organization’s primary goal is to provide humanitarian aid to children around the world. Its celebrity ambassador program began in 1954 with actor Danny Kaye. The program aims to bring attention to the organization’s mission through celebrity platforms. Today, more than 200 celebrities from around the world, including Selena Gomez and P!nk, currently participate in this awareness program.

Büyüküstün’s Involvement with UNICEF

Tuba Büyüküstün began her partnership with UNICEF in 2014. Since then, Büyüküstün has participated in a number of campaigns and relief programs with the nonprofit organization. For instance, for her first official UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador mission, she visited children at a camp for Syrian refugees in Kilis, Turkey. Büyüküstün spoke to the children and engaged with them in their daily learning activities. Afterward, the actress and ambassador participated in the opening ceremony of the first UNICEF school located near the camps. In 2018, Büyüküstün also joined in the “One Day at a Museum” initiative, which brings Turkish and Syrian children to various art exhibits and interactive experiences at the CerModern Museum in Ankara.

In July 2020, Tuba Büyüküstün and UNICEF joined forces with the World Health Organization (WHO) to educate the public about the risks and implications of COVID-19. Nearly 35,000 people tuned in to hear from Büyüküstün and WHO professionals.

Why Büyüküstün Partnered with UNICEF

The actress and mother of two have spoken about her dedication to UNICEF’s work. Büyüküstün stated that she is greatly honored to work with UNICEF as a mother. She claimed that “Children are always innocent, no matter where they live.” Büyüküstün explained that she is part of UNICEF because “[children] are all our children regardless of their religion, language, ethnicity and gender. And I think it is the responsibility of everyone to create a world where all children can have equal opportunities.”

Büyüküstün’s outreach is a great example of a public figure using social influence for good. Thanks, in part, to Goodwill Ambassadors such as Büyüküstün, UNICEF is able to advocate for the well-being of children throughout the world.

Nina Lehr
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Social Ecology in RojavaRojava, also known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, is a region in Northeastern Syria. It was born out of the political instability that started at the beginning of the civil war in 2011. Surrounded by conflict, Rojava represents a rare success story of a war-torn region determined to help its local communities by reducing poverty through social ecology.

Rojava in Action

Rojava functions as a confederated system of local communities. Political decisions are implemented by democratic means and policy is decided from the ground up. Members of the immediate community have the first and final say on policies and practices that affect their communities directly. This political method of local autonomy relies on a specific degree of local sustainability and social responsibility. Communities take an active role in ensuring each member can access essential resources such as food and clean water.

Ecological sustainability is strong at play. Communities in Rojava aim to transform the landscape back into a more ecologically diverse and fertile area. This will mean reversing land practices inherited from the Assad regime. Groups such as the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, and its project, Make Rojava Green Again, focus efforts on this transformation. This is the crux of how Rojava hopes to reduce poverty through social ecology.

The Problem

Under the Assad regime, Northern Syria became deforested and transformed into monoculture croplands. One example of the practice is the deforestation of Afrin in favor of planting olive trees. This practice, along with the use of chemical fertilizers and unnatural water sources, destroyed the quality of topsoil and degraded the overall fertility of the land. Such practices also forced the population to rely on supermarket-based systems of distribution to purchase food and other essentials, decreasing local access to resources in favor of international markets. This form of politically-induced scarcity increased poverty rates in the Kurdish regions of Northeastern Syria.

Making a Change

After the withdrawal of the Syrian Government in 2011, lands once used for monoculture cultivation were expropriated by local farming cooperatives. These cooperatives form the basis of the economic system that now functions in Rojava. Each cooperative includes roughly 25 to 35 people. The priority of each cooperative is to provide for the basic needs of the region’s most impoverished citizens. The reallocation of resources and land back to local communities has seen success.

The localization of food production has notable environmental and social benefits. According to a study conducted in 2019, eggs supplied by local cooperatives required less than 2% of the monetary cost and energy needed for eggs supplied by modern supermarket supply chains. This means the people in Rojava have improved access to food, and, at a substantially reduced cost.

The Make Rojava Green Again project has spearheaded multiple ecological initiatives throughout Northeastern Syria aimed at reducing poverty by encouraging practices of ecological sustainability at the local level. Examples of such initiatives include efforts to rebuff rivers with the reforestation of native plant species. This will create wider access to clean water for communities that rely on such rivers. Other examples include reusing water for irrigation and planting urban gardens in order to grow food for impoverished members of the community who cannot grow their own. This will increase food security for otherwise vulnerable areas.

Continuing Forward

Despite the threat of military annihilation, Rojava continues to implement a green future for its citizens. Ecological initiatives have increased access to natural resources for populations in both urban and rural environments. The effort to reduce poverty through social ecology in Rojava is an ongoing initiative that requires international support if it is to survive. Nevertheless, Rojava has already demonstrated the effectiveness of such measures, and in doing so, has provided the rest of the world with a model for a green future.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr