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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

Child Hunger in IdlibThe Syrian conflict continues to rage through this pandemic. The locus of fighting has shifted to the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Since 2019, the Syrian government — with support from Russia — has engaged in various bombing campaigns in the region and sent ground forces as well. Idlib is clearly feeling the effects of this violence. The need for aid in the province grows alongside the increasing size of the humanitarian crisis. One particularly important but overlooked aspect of the devastation in Idlib is the rising cost of food. Child hunger in Idlib is a result of the rise in levels of food among the youth due to price increases.

The Issue

Child hunger in Idlib — for infants in particular — has become an area of concern as COVID-19 has become more prevalent throughout the country. One big factor is that food has generally become much less accessible. According to The New Humanitarian, “‘An infant needs one container of formula per week, but the price has risen to $12,’ up from $9 three months ago … For many parents, that sum is out of reach.” This increase in price manifests itself often in the form of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). The disease primarily affects children under the age of 5, is highly dangerous and often turns life-threatening. Effects of SAM include a process known as “stunting,” which limits the physical growth in very young children. Stunting and other effects of SAM lead to other problems later in life for these children.

Another frequent issue is malnutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women. It not only affects them personally but impacts the growth of their infants as well. The New Humanitarian also reports a rise in SAM hospital cases over the summer of 2020. The ratio jumped to 97 out of 1,692 people screened from the January status of 29 out of 2,199. This is likely a lower estimate given the number of people who cannot get screened or don’t have access to testing. Time is of the essence after receiving a SAM diagnosis. Once a child with this condition reaches 2 years of age, they will likely deal with the consequences of SAM for the rest of their life.

Fighting Worsens the Problem

Child hunger in Idlib — and in Syria more widely — is deeply concerning. The issue is compounded by the broader poverty levels and violence that plague the entire country. As a result of the fighting, the majority of  Syrians are internally displaced from their homes.

There is no clear end in sight to the fighting between rebel forces and the Syrian state military. Refugee camps are essentially at capacity and can’t withstand an influx of people if the civil war persists. Additionally, COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, which will likely increase the number of Syrian refugees and displaced persons.

In addition to the housing issue, food scarcity is prevalent in the country. Food options are usually unavailable or unaffordable. As such, many Syrians rely on foreign assistance and aid from NGOs as resources for food.

Aid

There are, however, numerous aid organizations and NGOs working to provide food security and address the growing refugee crisis. They are especially targeting the northwest, where Idlib is located. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is an organization working to expand health care access to those who need it. SAMS also provides meals to both children and adults at risk of food insecurity. Yet another part of their work focuses specifically on care for those with Severe Acute Malnutrition.

SAMS fights against child hunger in Idlib and throughout the rest of the country. They report that in 2019, the last year for which data is available, SAMS performed more than 2.5 million medical services for the Syrian population, at no or greatly reduced cost. Since 2011, they have provided more than $207 million worth of aid and medical resources as well.

SAMS and other similar organizations are vital to the survival of millions of Syrians. However, there is still more to be done. The international community must redouble their efforts to provide resources to those displaced and malnourished. Everyone must work to end the violence that has been a constant in the country for so long.

Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

Bread Shortage in SyriaMore than half of Syria’s population is labeled as food insecure: about 8 million people do not have access to a reliable food source. Syria is facing a major bread shortage, the first since the country’s civil war. During that time, citizens had to cut back their meals drastically due to the minimal harvest. Now, without reliable access to food, projections show that more than 500,000 children could become chronically malnourished. The shortage adds to the many other issues the country currently faces, including the civil war and the COVID-19 pandemic. This problem has a variety of implications. However, one stands out as essentially alarming: the bread shortage in Syria is deepening poverty.

The Importance of Wheat

In Syria, people consider wheat the staple ‘staff of life.’ As a sustainable agricultural product, farmers sow more than a quarter of land in Syria with wheat. The people depend on this crop as a steady food source, as it can serve poor communities in a harsh economic environment. Bread derives from wheat and is popular in the Syrian diet. If there is a disruption in government assistance to bread productivity, the entire Syrian population could be at risk of food shortages.

Bread Shortage Politics

The United States enforced the Caesar Act on Syria. This restricts humanitarian aid t0 hold President Bashar al-Assad’s government accountable for war crimes. Many Syrians dislike the Western sanctions, believing they have created overall hardships for the country: for example, the value of Syrian currency has dropped immensely due to the sanction and other contributing factors. President Assad was not able to financially compensate for the shortcomings in imports.

The Syrian President wanted to implement a rationing system in response. During the bread shortage, Syrians would be able to purchase government-rationed goods through authorized retailers. A smart card system facilitated the distribution, but only in the capital of Damascus and in Rif-Dimashq. As a result, the smart card system—and, thus, bread rations—was not accessible to all.

Western sanctions did not restrict food but implemented banking restrictions that froze assets. This action led to a trade difficulty for Syrian businesses. Grain traders were unable to conduct business as normal, and the government had to rely on businessmen to conduct bread transactions.

Living During a Bread Shortage

Overall price increases have made it difficult for Syrians to survive amidst these turbulent times: one Syrian’s monthly salary of 50,000 pounds ($21), for instance, is not enough to live on. Living on less than $1 per day makes it difficult for Syrians to eat, afford living expenses and obtain other necessities. Many citizens live in debt, and some even sell their furniture to pay their cost of living.

Food prices have also drastically increased, making it even more challenging for Syrians to eat a simple meal. Through the ration card, one family can get two kilograms of sugar, one kilogram of rice and 200 grams of tea. This amount of food should supposedly feed an entire family. However, the low quality of these products motivated many Syrians to wait in long lines for bread.

Improving the Bread Shortage

To alleviate poverty resulting from the bread shortage in Syria, the World Food Programme (WFP) provides assistance to more than 4.5 million food-insecure Syrians each month. WFP improves nutrition for malnourished families by providing emergency food during times of national hardship. Syrian mothers and children are at the greatest risk of malnutrition. WFP accordingly provides those in need with food vouchers to promote a healthy diet. Although the wheat shortage caused Syrians to cut their three meals a day to two, WFP continues to help alleviate this disparity by donating meals to families and lunches to children during school.

Wheat is a major component of the Syrian diet. The bread shortage in Syria has disrupted many lives by leaving individuals and families without sustainable amounts of food. The government introduced bread rations, yet families still go hungry with minute portions. Although Syria requires more progress, assistance from programs like WFP provides hope to those in need.

– Ann Ciancia
Photo: Flickr

Education Crisis in Syria
The Syrian Civil War began almost a decade ago and has effectively destroyed many aspects of governance and civilization throughout the historic Levant nation—including education. 5.8 million children from preschool to secondary school age were in need of education assistance in 2018, and about 3 million Syrian childrenboth in Syria and in surrounding countries as refugeeslack access to education altogether. Direct attacks on schools have been common since the conflict began, resulting in the damage or destruction of one-third of Syrian schools and the unemployment of almost 200,000 education workers. This situation has persisted for years, threatening an entire generation of Syrian children with a dire education crisis in Syria.

Dwindling Education Access within Syria

The general lack of access to education means that Syrians will have an increased difficulty enrolling in schools in later years. This domino effect will inhibit development and economic opportunities for millions of Syrians. A lack of development will perpetuate the country’s track record of conflict and humanitarian need. Poverty in Syria is a direct result of violent conflict. Poverty will only worsen as an increased number of uneducated Syrians enter the workforce. Although education is a fundamental right, it is becoming a rarity in Syria. Even those with access to schooling experience crowded classrooms, psychological trauma, curricula and language issues, poor teaching quality and lack of learning materials. These struggles associated with the education crisis in Syria have led nearly one-third of students to drop out before finishing primary school.

Over 6 million Syrians are internally displaced persons (IDPs), with about 50% of those IDPs being children. Fortunately, government bodies including the government of Syria, the opposition Syrian Interim Government and smaller local government bodies provide a semblance of education to IDPs. Non-Syrian government organizations are also involved, including Islamist groups, the U.N. and the Turkish government. There is very little coordination between these groups, though, endangering Syrian IDPs’ abilities to access reliable, standardized education.

Government structures and the Syrian economy incurred severe damage over the past decade. Many Syrian families deem it impractical to invest in education for their children, especially when that investment requires sacrificing food or shelter. Although this education crisis in Syria is certainly multifaceted, a lack of cohesion in the sector will worsen conditions. Families will increasingly turn to child labor and early marriage for financial stability.

Struggles for Syrian Refugees

The situation is just as dire for Syrian refugees in surrounding countries. About 1.5 million school-aged Syrians live in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, yet half do not have access to formal education. In these countries, the threat of child labor and language barriers are nearly insurmountable. However, the governments of those countries have made considerable efforts to provide education to Syrian refugees within their borders.

In spite of these government initiatives, Syrian refugees still face obstacles in obtaining a quality education. Only 25% of secondary school-aged children in Jordan are enrolled in school. Reasons for low enrollment are similar to those in Syria: poverty, lack of safe and affordable transportation and poor quality of education. For Jordanians, there is also little practical value in continuing education without reliable professional opportunities. Various administrative barriers exist to enrolling and there is a lack of accommodations for students with special needs.

The Jordanian government, with funds from foreign donors and NGOs, has a fairly successful primary education program, but international support has prioritized this program at the expense of valuable secondary school experience. As a result, this critical age group is neglected and left vulnerable to the implications of dropping out. Failing to enroll in secondary school undermines efforts to provide primary education, as students drop out after those first years.

Taking Action

Despite stark barriers for Syrian refugees throughout the region, international efforts provide some hope. UNICEF leads the response with a systematic approach, improving the capacity of the Syrian education system. They train teachers, rehabilitate schools, provide accelerated and self-learning programs and supply schools with essential learning resources.

On an international scale, UNICEF also works with Save the Children to target Syrian children in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt by providing overall technical support. The NGO World Refugees School (WRS), backed by the internationally recognized City & Guilds, provides formal education to refugee and displaced children throughout the world. WRS has helped 6,000 students in northern Syria graduate in six pilot schools as of late 2019. It is also working toward its goal of expanding to 40 schools nationwide. WRS uses technology to compensate for poor access to materials. It focuses on the use of digitized textbooks, e-learning platforms and mobile classrooms to alleviate pressure on students and teachers.

The education crisis in Syria is severe and has gone unaddressed for years. The Syrian civil war has stolen an entire generation’s right to education. Even the multitude of government bodies and NGOs have struggled to form a cohesive system for Syrian children. However, the international community and humanitarian organizations provide hope for saving this generation from an endemic lack of formal education.

– Connor Bradbury
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Homelessness in the Syrian Arab Republic
The Syrian Arab Republic, also known as Syria, is a Middle Eastern country with a population of more than 17 million people. In addition to facing the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is in the midst of a civil war. Civilian populations are the victims of war crimes, chemical weapons, displacement and deprivation of basic necessities each and every day. This article aims to break down the causes and effects of homelessness in the Syrian Arab Republic.

How the Crisis Began

In hopes of improving democracy, the Syrian population began to protest in 2011. Instead of listening to their concerns, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad worked to silence them. A civil war began as a result.

Russia and Iran support President Bashar al-Assad, opposing the Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes Turkey as well as Western and Gulf countries. These foreign nations have partnered with an oppressed indigenous group, the Kurds, to inhibit the efforts of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. While Turkey supports the Syrian rebels, the nation also feels threatened by the Kurds’ desire to be independent. To make matters worse, terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have flourished amid this instability. The United States has withdrawn from the region under the Trump administration, but many countries are still involved.

4 Facts about Homelessness in the Syrian Arab Republic

  1. Internal displacement: According to the United Nations, more than 6.5 million people are internationally displaced within Syria. In 2018, CNN reported that 180,000 children had to leave their homes in as little as three weeks. While many were fleeing violence, others had no choice but to sell essential belongings like furniture — and eventually their homes — to afford basic necessities. Many Syrians, including 35-year-old Awad Abu Abdu, feel robbed and exploited of their life earnings as they received far less than what their properties were worth.
  2. Relocation: As a result of the violence, up to 4.5 million Syrians have been forced to relocate to areas where it is too difficult to receive aid. This is partly because Russians have blocked humanitarian assistance in areas controlled by the Syrian government, as this aid was provided against the will of their close ally, President Bashar al-Assad. The United Nations also reports that 70% of Syrians do not have access to clean water due to collapsed infrastructure. Another 9 million do not have enough food, including 1 million who are on the brink of starvation. Many Syrians relocated closer to the Turkish border, hoping to receive aid and escape the violence. However, as of July 2020, Russia and China successfully convinced the United Nations Security Council to close one of the two crossings from Turkey to Syria, arguing that only one was necessary to provide aid to Syrians. This has put a tremendous strain on resources.
  3. Combatting homelessness: The United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) is currently working with 15 governmental and non-governmental organizations to reduce homelessness in Syria. In 2018, UNHCR was able to provide 456,986 Syrians with shelter assistance, including 108,790 who were in need of emergency shelter assistance. UNHCR also provided 8,425 Syrians with shelter kits and 6,085 with tents. Additionally, the organization rehabilitated 2,586 emergency rooms and upgraded 6,697 homes to make them livable again.
  4. Other successful aid: As of June 2020, the European Union and the United Kingdom, along with several other countries, have pledged $7.7 billion to combat the worsening humanitarian crises in Syria and to support neighboring countries who are struggling to help the 5 million refugees who have fled to their countries. This is significant progress toward the $10 billion that the U.N. said is needed to combat the crisis. The fact that so many countries are willing to provide aid suggests that there may be hope for Syria.

Despite these pledges to help, however, poverty, displacement and homelessness in the Syrian Arab Republic remain severe. Efforts to address the crisis are still deeply underfunded, and more action needs to be taken. Please contact local representatives and find out how to support poverty-reduction organizations to help.

Rida Memon
Photo: Flickr

The country of Jordan is the fifth most water-scarce country in the world, following Iran, and is labeled at an “extremely high” risk level. With water scarcity comes multiple risk factors, including water-borne illnesses caused by unsafe drinking water, diseases from a lack of sanitation and death by dehydration. In addition, water scarcity contributes to an increase in sexual exploitation and rape, as children, especially young girls, need to physically travel miles every day through deserts and dangerous terrain to retrieve water for their families. This then contributes to a decrease in education among girls and perpetuates the cycle of poverty in areas in Jordan and globally. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Jordan.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Jordan

  1. Climate change affects sanitation in Jordan. In most areas of the country, populations are not located near major water sources and water must be transported from distances up to 325 kilometers away. With the rise of climate change causing flash floods, unpredictable and extreme weather patterns and increased temperatures, Jordan faces difficulties accessing necessary sanitation services.
  2. Jordan faces severe water scarcity. According to UNICEF, “Jordan’s annual renewable water resources are less than 100m3 [meters cubed] per person.” This is 400 meters cubed below the threshold of 500 meters cubed, which defines water scarcity.

  3. As a result of an increase in population and industrial and agricultural capacity, Jordan is dealing with severe aquifer depletion. All 12 of Jordan’s main aquifers are declining at rates exceeding 20 meters per year, well beyond their rechargeable volumes. This is especially alarming as 60% of Jordan’s water comes from the ground.

  4. Those in vulnerable and rural areas lack sanitation resources. Proper hygiene norms, such as handwashing and showering, are taught and practiced in households. However, those in more vulnerable and rural areas often lack soap and body wash to stay clean and healthy.

  5. A large percentage of the population in Jordan don’t have access to water. Only 58% of households have direct access to a sewer connection. In comparison to the nearly half of the population in Jordan, only 0.46% of the United States population does not have access to proper plumbing services. This is an especially prevalent issue in rural areas in Jordan, where only 6% of households have a sewer connection.

  6. The Syrian refugee crisis has greatly increased the population in Jordan. As Jordan borders Syria, it has become a safe haven for more than 670,000 refugees of the Syrian civil war. Having accepted the second-highest amount of refugees in the world compared to its population in 2018, this sudden increase in population means added pressure on resources and infrastructure, as well as an increase in air pollution and waste production.

  7. The water network in Jordan has inadequate infrastructure, needing major rehabilitation. Pumps and sewer lines are old and aging. Unfortunately, Jordan’s already scarce water supply is paying the price, with up to 70% of water transported from aquifers through old pumps being lost in the northern areas of Jordan due to water leakage.
  8. The increase in population, agriculture and industry in Jordan has led to an increase in pollution and toxicity in Jordan’s water supply. Upstream abstractions of groundwater have led to an increase in salinity. Unregulated pesticides and fertilizers used for farming have exposed the water supply to dangerous nitrates and phosphorus through runoff. In addition, it is reported that about 70% of Jordan’s spring water is biologically contaminated.

  9. Foreign aid plays a positive role in improving sanitation in Jordan. To mitigate the aforementioned effects threatening Jordan’s water supply and working towards achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6, USAID works in conjunction with the government of Jordan to build sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure, train hundreds of water experts in Jordan, promote water conservation and strengthen water governance.

  10. Profound progress is seen in the increase in access to water, hygiene services and sanitation in Jordan. From 2000 to 2015, 2,595,670 people gained access to safely managed water services and 2,212,419 people gained access to safely managed sanitation services. In addition, homelessness in Jordan is very rare, meaning open defecation and the illnesses associated with homelessness are less prevalent.

Despite Jordan’s desert climate, clean water and efficient sanitation are achievable and make up the groundwork of global prosperity. Sanitation in Jordan is of the utmost priority in ensuring that Jordan can become a durable consumer and competitor of leading nations.

 Sharon Shenderovskiy
Photo: Flickr

seven facts about the poverty crisis in SyriaSyria’s economy was once promising, and the nation even functioned as a resettlement country for refugees. However, the past seven years of war have disrupted economic activity and shaped Syria into one of the worst the humanitarian and economic catastrophes of the present time. As of 2018, the conflict is still continuous with no predicted end in sight. Below are seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria and how the current war has contributed to the country’s extremely poor state.

Seven Facts About the Poverty Crisis in Syria

  1. The war isn’t over, and casualties are increasing on a daily basis.
    Since the Syrian Civil War in 2011, around half a million people have been killed. President Bashar al-Assad and government forces are carrying out chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin gas, in an attack against civilians. Right now, some of the worst violence is intensifying each day in Eastern Ghouta, located just 10 kilometers east of the capital Damascus. More than 600 residents are believed to have been killed and at least 2,000 injured since President Assad’s forces launched an air and ground invasion on February 18.
  1. Access to basic necessities in war-stricken areas is scarce.
    Civilians of the Eastern Ghouta area have limited or no access to food, medicine or sanitary supplies. Access to adequate health care is severely restricted for an estimated 350,000 civilians trapped in the area as well. Eastern Ghouta now has just one doctor per 3,600 people; 75 percent of Syria’s doctors and medical personnel have fled the country
  1. Syria has the biggest internally displaced population in the world.
    Since the civil war began, more than six million people have fled their homes but have not crossed Syria’s borders to find safety. Approximately 6,550 Syrians are displaced each day and live in camps, informal settlements or abandoned buildings along the Turkish border in Northern Syria.
  1. Kids are at great risk.
    Before the war, Syria had an actively strong education system, with almost 100 percent primary school enrollment and 70 percent secondary school enrollment. However, today about 1.75 million Syrian children and youth do not have access to an education. More than a third of schools in Syria have been damaged, destroyed or are being used as shelters by internally displaced people, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and professors have fled the country. Additionally, Syria is enduring the worst outbreak of child malnutrition yet, where an estimated 1.7 million children and pregnant or lactating women have been screened for acute malnutrition.
  1. There is an extreme lack of clean water and sanitation.
    Safe drinking water and basic sanitation services are scarce due to damaged pumps and pipelines, which increases vulnerability to epidemic diseases. In some areas with the greatest refugee populations, the water supply has hit a low of 22 liters per person per day, which is less than one-tenth of what the average American uses.
  1. Syria is lacking in natural resources.
    Although the country does have some oil, the country is not as abundant as it used to be when oil production peaked at 677,000 barrels per day in 2002. Since the growth of the Syrian conflict in 2011 to today, barrel production has declined to about 25,000 per day. Also, the increased armed conflict has impacted Syria as an agricultural nation. The ongoing war has caused major destruction to agricultural production, resulting in more than $16 billion of lost crop and livestock production and destroyed farming resources.
  1. The economy has deeply collapsed.
    As these seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria indicate, years of conflict has destroyed the country’s economy. Syria’s economy has declined more than 70 percent since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, and now the country has one of the world’s highest inflation rates. As of December 2017, the inflation rate in Syria was recorded at 43.2 percent and reached an all-time high of 121.29 percent in 2013. Additionally, over half the population is unemployed and 82.5 percent are living below the poverty line.

These seven facts about the poverty crisis in Syria allow for a better understanding of the harsh reality of the country’s current state. While it may be easy to become desensitized to the Syrian conflict, it is easy to help through donations or mobilization. Reputable charity organizations including UNHCR, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, the International Red Cross and Save the Children are all working to provide aid to the millions of Syrians affected by the war and poverty. Furthermore, taking action by emailing or writing to members of Congress and asking them to support aid to Syria is another way to help.

– Natalie Shaw

Photo: Flickr

the Media Misrepresents Lebanon
Lebanon is a sovereign state that lies on the western coast of the Mediterranean sea. With over six million inhabitants, this small country shares a long border with Syria, a country that is currently facing a multi-year civil war that has been the cause of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and intense human suffering.

Due to Lebanon’s close proximity to Syria, it naturally has faced some conflict in recent years with the overflow of refugees and military conflict on Lebanese soil. The Syrian war has already rendered and continues to produce much devastation for Syrian people, mainly through a lack of human rights.  

Because of this, the media has associated countries in the surrounding area with this chaotic state. There has been a very distinct picture painted of Lebanon, characterized as unsafe and disorganized. However, everything the public is being told is not exactly true, and the way the media misrepresents Lebanon has a major impact on how we categorize and make assumptions about this beautiful, culturally-rich state.

The main implication behind the way the media misrepresents Lebanon is the fact that the media industry survives off public opinion, meaning that headlines and article content are often edited and revised to fit a style that will capture a reader’s attention. Due to this, it is not uncommon for the media to misrepresent situations and give inflated facts to attract more coverage. This is one of the biggest factors of how the media misrepresents Lebanon and, more specifically, the country’s stability.

While certain parts of Lebanon have faced overflow from the Syrian war–for instance, there have been minor security incidents that have occurred in smaller cities like Baalbek and Sidon–these incidents have been both sporadic and uncommon. The way in which the media covers these topics often paints Lebanon as an unsafe environment for travelers, which is not entirely true.

While there are places to avoid, such as the smaller cities that lie on the Lebanon-Syrian border, larger cities like Beirut have remained nearly untouched and are still safe for tourism. In fact, sources like the New York Times and ABC News have published pro-Beirut pieces that highlight the beauty of Beirut culture. Specifically, the New York Times article touched on the Beirut art scene and the various cultures weaved throughout the city’s architecture and cuisine.

In addition to Beirut, other Lebanese cities like Byblos and Zahlé have also been marked safe for tourism in recent years, with standard travel-safety procedures. The truth is that these Lebanese cities are very similar to any other major city; it is simply a large metropolitan area with general security issues like pickpocketing, scamming and robbery. These problems exist in all major cities throughout the globe.

However, when visiting Lebanon, it is important not to ignore the struggle the country faces with border safety and its ongoing rubbish crisis, in which large amounts of trash continue to cover the state’s shoreline. While tourism helps the Lebanese economy, it is vital that tourists do not contribute to the country’s main issues such as littering.

Although it faces a few security concerns, Lebanon is a beautiful country. Cities like Beirut, Byblos and Zahle have enriching cultures and histories alike, and it is important not to let the way the media misrepresents Lebanon take away from the nation’s true colors.

– Alexandra Dennis

Photo: Flickr

Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 Introduced in SenateSenator Ben Cardin (D-MD) launched the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 in June 2017. This bill would require a report from the United States on the accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Syria by the Syrian government.

Syria’s ongoing conflict has lasted over six years as of the year 2017. The war crimes committed in the nation have caused over 4,900,000 citizens to flee to neighboring countries, with another 600,000 living under siege. Evidence has been collected by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) declaring that the Syrian government has “committed the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforce disappearance and other inhuman acts.”

Furthermore, a report from 2016 stated that the Syrian government forces used chemicals in an attack in Idlib in 2015 in violation of a pact. The United States and Russia made an agreement requiring Syria to dispose of all chemical weapons to prevent further harm to the Syrian people. Because of these accounts, at least 12 other countries have requested assistance in investigating the ongoing conflict in Syria in order to prevent further war crimes.

Congress has taken initiative, urging all parties in the conflict to halt attacks on civilians and provide the necessary humanitarian and medical assistance in order to end the siege on all peoples. This is a result of another document reporting that, in February alone, the Syrian government prevented 80,000 medical treatment items from going into besieged areas. Syrian citizens now rely on interference from the United States to help provide for humanitarian needs.

Although Congress cannot prevent these sieges from affecting the Syrian people as of right now, the United States has taken action by accepting approximately 12,500 refugees from Syria with the goal of resettlement. This number exceeds the Obama administration’s goal of resettling 10,000 Syrians, a huge accomplishment in itself.

The Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017 would ensure a report is submitted to the appropriate congressional committees reporting on the war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, and would not cease until the Secretary of State determined that the violence in Syria has ceased. It would also ensure that USAID, the Department of Defense and other programs within the government are held accountable for their participation in the war crimes that are occurring in Syria.

The United States is the world’s largest donor to the Syrian humanitarian response, donating a total of $5.9 billion. However, the passing of this bill would allow the United States to assist much more in the well-being of the Syrian people. The next step for the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017, since it has already passed the Senate, is to pass through the House of Representatives.

– Adrienne Tauscheck

Photo: Flickr

Social Media and Poverty ReductionThe U.N. first asked “how can the international community best harness the power of media…to educate and transform?” in a 2017 conference. Although this requires a complicated answer, social media and poverty reduction can be connected by harnessing the power of information to foster development in a technologically advancing world.

The link is clear: the U.N. recognizes that there are many “opportunities for the media to play a strategic role for eradicating poverty.” This rests on the media’s ability to inform the public about poverty, in many cases by disseminating information through the voices of who have truly experienced it. This provides “an inclusive platform and an open forum to share the views and concerns of people living in vulnerable situations.”

 

Media and Poverty Reduction: Syrian Civil War

 

But what does this look like firsthand? When a video of a young Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh covered in rubble surfaced in 2016, millions of people disseminated the video through their social media channels hours after its publication. The New York Times called the video “an image of civil war,” as for many it humanized the violent events taking place far from home.

Sharing these shocking images can spur quick action. A different image, that of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned while leaving Syria for Greece, gained similar attention. Sharing it via social media had real outcomes: MercyCorps garnered $2.3 million for Syrian refugees in one month, compared to the $4.5 million raised in four years before.

The information-sharing that took place with these images spurred discussions about poverty and war on social media. In many cases, the power in information-sharing means that “the media can play a major role in developing public understanding of economic, social, and environmental issues: the three pillars of sustainable development,” according to the U.N.

 

Governments Utilize Connection Between Media and Poverty Reduction

 

Many organizations and governments are harnessing the power in social media and poverty reduction. Rwandan health minister Agnes Binagwaho provides an example with #Ministermondays. Every other Monday, Binagwaho opens a discussion via Twitter for people to voice their concerns about health in the country. Listening to real voices, she is able to craft policies using the experiences she absorbs through social media.

Others are doing similar work. An online social media platform called Digital Green provides farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia a network to discuss best practices for farming. Similarly, the World Bank Finances app ensures that sustainable development initiatives put funding into the correct hands, preventing fraud via social media.

Unlike other media sources, social media gives a voice to those who have lived in poverty by creating public platforms to spread experience. In this way, the media “affords individuals and communities the possibility to become active in the development process” by using social media platforms as safe spaces for discussion, according to the University of Namibia. Over time, this is generating “long-term suitability and sustainability” for poverty reduction.

Social media and poverty reduction works for other forms of development. Success for the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals largely rests on the power of the media, according to the U.N., based on its ability to instigate change with credible information sharing. And media hides other tools for poverty eradication; the University of Namibia explains that it also “creates a platform for non-violent discussion and issue resolution” to prevent conflict.

Social media and poverty reduction can be linked through holding guilty parties accountable for their actions. An established social media source known as I Paid a Bribe is doing just this; it creates a space to safely expose corruption in developing countries by text or email. Stories are shared without fear of retaliation, exposing illegal actions and fighting corruption.

 

Media and Poverty Reduction: Shortcomings

 

Even so, media does not always work in favor of poverty reduction; many argue that poverty is often given little coverage time via traditional media sources. For example, a study of three prominent U.S. nightly news sources found that in 14 months, an average of only 2.7 seconds in every 22-minute program mentioned poverty. And not all people are able to access social media channels; ending the digital divide that leaves four billion people without internet can harness the power of social media to share stories for reducing poverty.

In some cases, “the knowledge and experiences of people living in poverty are often undervalued” in the media, and “solutions to their own problems are ignored.” This can improperly portray real world experiences. Giving little recognition to those who have lived in poverty, according to the U.N., ultimately plays a role in distorting public perception and negatively influencing policies about poverty reduction.

Despite barriers, the U.N. explains that “the time has come for all policy actors to recognize and support the vital contribution of the media” in reducing poverty. Developing the tools that social media provides to reduce poverty, when done effectively, is gaining traction for development today.

And although Omran Daqneesh’s video alone can not end a civil war, his impact is igniting progress for sustainable development. In a world like today, change stems from diverse voices, making way for progress that was impossible only decades ago.

Cleo Krejci

Photo: Flickr