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 Reduction
The 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

Hunger in Syria
After six years of continuous conflict and civil war, hunger in Syria has become a major crisis. Providing the necessary food aid for Syrians has become increasingly difficult as the danger escalates and the number of refugees multiplies.

Over 11 million Syrians have fled their homes to other Syrian cities or neighboring countries in search of safety. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are over 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees. As the conflict continues, the issue of hunger in Syria intensifies. Despite these difficulties, international organizations are doing everything they can to help Syrians in need. Here are five facts about the triumphs and challenges of hunger in Syria:

  1. According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, 8.7 million people in Syria are food insecure.
    Food insecurity refers to the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable and nutritious food. Soaring food prices have only exacerbated the situation. Prices for bread, the cornerstone of the Syrian diet, have increased by more than 100% since 2014.
  2. The ShareTheMeal app has helped feed nearly 25,000 Syrians over the past year.
    The ShareTheMeal app allows participants to donate just $0.50 in order to feed a child for an entire day. Since November 2015, ShareTheMeal has provided Syrian refugee children and mothers with food support for an entire year.
  3. Food production in Syria has dropped by 40% since 2010.
    Nearly half of Syria’s population lives in rural regions. The war has destroyed agricultural infrastructure and irrigation systems, which has, in turn, decreased production. Wheat, in particular, has suffered dramatically from both the conflict and low rainfall.
  4. The World Food Program (WFP) is providing 240,000 Syrian children with nutrient supplements to prevent malnutrition.
    Child malnutrition can lead to stunting, disease and even death. In order to prevent undernutrition, WFP provides ready-to-eat, specialized nutritional products to thousands of Syrian children under the age of 5.
  5. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) has distributed food parcels to over 2.5 million people.
    SARC is one of the only organizations working in the entirety of Syria to provide humanitarian aid. Every month, SARC distributes food parcels and health care items to over three million people in need.

Although it will take $86.5 million this year to assist the nearly three million people in need who remain in the country, hunger in Syria can be diminished. WFP, UNHCR and their partners have taken great strides to accomplish this goal. With an increase in the International Affairs budget, the U.S. can also help save the lives of millions of Syrians suffering from hunger.

Kristyn Rohrer

Photo: Flickr

Education in Aleppo
The Syrian civil war is now in its fifth year, but Stephen O’Brien, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, believes that the current fighting in Aleppo, Syria represents “the apex of horror at its most horrific extent of the suffering of people.” No group is more vulnerable to this horror than the children of Aleppo, who do not have access to fresh food, clean water, shelter, or medical care. Needless to say, education in Aleppo is also not the highest priority.

The fighting in Aleppo has not slowed, even after the recent photo of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old boy who was pulled from the rubble of his former home, went viral. Following the image’s release, Russia, the main ally of al-Assad’s regime, swore that it would enact a 48-hour ceasefire, but the combat has continued.

Control in Aleppo is split between rebels in the east and the Syrian government in the west. The 275,000 civilians in eastern Aleppo have not been able to receive any aid, while scarce amounts of goods have reached the 1.5 million in western Aleppo. According to an article published by TIME, there is “an estimated 75,000 children fighting to survive in eastern Aleppo”.

Education in Aleppo has suffered because of the danger that children are put in when they try to attend school. Save the Children reported that in the month of August 16 schools that they support have been hit or affected by bombings.

While UNICEF is fighting on many fronts in Aleppo, their most prominent initiative is providing children from the war-torn city with a proper education. In a recent article, UNICEF shared that it has built 130 prefabricated classrooms throughout Aleppo.

Unfortunately, one of UNICEF’s crowning achievements in their education campaign has recently become another victim to the fighting in Aleppo. UNICEF’s intermediary school in the 1070 neighborhood was severely damaged by bombings that began on July 31. The all girls’ school had 32 prefabricated classrooms with 2,500 students enrolled.

The 1,070 school offered hope to many children in the western Aleppo neighborhood, which is made up of thousands of displaced families. Though this tragedy is horrific, it does not signal the end of UNICEF’s campaign. The organization plans to rebuild these classrooms and is collaborating with Syrian officials on self-learning programs that will restore education in Aleppo.

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr

According to NPR, approximately four million Syrians have fled from Syria and the civil war that has ravaged the country with violence and conflict for almost five years now. Thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan; many specifically to one of Jordan’s largest refugee camps, Za’atari.

Za’atari, first opened in 2012, features market-like structures along its main street where goods such as vegetables, basic household equipment and clothes can be purchased.

Shelters consist primarily of tents or shacks with tin roofs. Food and clean water are scarce, along with adequate sanitation and clothing. Za’atari reached 60,000, full capacity, in 2013. As a result, a new camp was built just 20 kilometers away. Approximately 40 percent of all refugees living in Za’atari are children under the age of 12.

According to a report by the United Nations, entitled “Living in the Shadows,” one in six Syrian refugees is currently living in extreme poverty in Jordan, lacking basic human needs such as food, clean water, clothing, shelter and education. Many children and teenagers were forced to drop out of school after being displaced or fleeing from their homes and have not returned to school. Duties in the family, such as businesses or taking care of the home, take priority over education in desperate times for the Syrian refugees.

Almost 50 percent of all refugee shelters in Za’atari have no heat, while another quarter of the shelters lack any sort of electricity.

The U.N. report said that as the Syrian conflict approached its fifth year, many refugees were becoming “increasingly dependent on assistance, with Jordan’s resources and infrastructure being stretched to the limit.”

Jordan currently holds a registered Syrian refugee population of about 620,000, with around 100,000 living in camps.

Northern Jordan has been dramatically altered by the Syrian civil war. Since the uprising began in March 2011 right across the border in the city of Deraa, Jordanians have experienced the conflict via the thousands that have crossed into their country through the towns of Jabir and Ramtha.

– Alaina Grote

Sources: BBC, The Economist, Oxfam America, UNHCR

Photo: Flickr


All over the world, where storms, violence and famine attract attention, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, or PDA, is quietly working to ease the suffering and provide for the needs of survivors.

The Rev. Laurie Kraus has been the Coordinator of PDA since 2012 and first became involved in the church’s relief organization back in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew swept through her home state of Florida. For Rev. Kraus, the issues that disaster relief victims face hit home.

“My work in natural and human caused disaster as a responder, trainer and practical theologian has challenged, changed and transformed my understanding of ministry and of the Church,” Kraus said.

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, PDA is a ministry of the Presbyterian (U.S.A) one of the most prominent Protestant denominations in the U.S. The organization has been involved in domestic aid work, caring for the displaced in natural disaster areas from Hurricane Katrina to Superstorm Sandy. For all the care that PDA gives to people in need on U.S. soil, their international work is most notable. The organization is currently active in disaster relief and humanitarian causes in every inhabitable continent except South America and Australia.

Cultivating partnerships on the ground, PDA is currently responding to displaced flood victims in Malawi, where floods have devastated up to 250,000 people, according to the latest reports. Joining together with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, PDA is providing safe water, flour and other essentials, while paying specific attention to the most vulnerable among the victims.

Responding to the vast amount of displaced persons in Ukraine as violence has spread over the nation, PDA is partnering with the Russian Orthodox Church and Hungarian Interchurch Aid to provide blankets, food and hygiene supplies to refugees.

In the Middle East, PDA has aid projects active in Syria, helping people escape violence and treating the wounded. The displaced in Iraq are receiving bedding, fuel and help gaining employment. In Gaza, PDA is providing pychosocial care and economic support. And in Afghanistan, everything from pillows to mobile hospitals is being provided by the PDA.

Typhoons and earthquakes have kept teams busy in the Philippines and in China, where shelter, debris removal, sanitation and livelihood restoration efforts are in full-force.

The relief efforts of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, while they may not attract much attention, are felt by the people who need them the most.

– Casey Hobbs

Sources: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, The Guardian, NPR
Photo: Flickr

refugee camps
Since the start of the Syrian conflict, 2.8 million registered refugees have fled the country and over four million have been displaced internally. With no end in sight, the United Nations has begun to rethink how to handle mass influxes of refugees in host countries.

Refugee camps have long been the main way international aid groups have sheltered people fleeing from conflicts around the world. However, this practice is being reconsidered by the UN, which hopes to place refugees in local communities as opposed to camps.

In camps, refugees often do not have the opportunity to work and are usually confined to restricted areas. However, when refugees are integrated into local communities, they are able to become more self-reliant and contribute to the local economy. This also allows the UN to utilize their funding on already existing communities, as opposed to building and maintaining brand new camps.

Although integration into local communities is preferred for refugees it is ultimately up to the host country–and many have been reluctant. Host countries often experience a drain in resources due to increases in refugee populations, fueling an increase in tensions between the two groups.

The UN hopes to convince host countries that they can benefit economically by allowing refugees to integrate. In addition to basic market advantages, host countries will also be eligible for Targeted Development Assistance (TDA).

TDA allows the UN as well as donor states (such as the United States) to specifically allocate monies to countries that host large refugee populations. The goal is to help host countries provide better security, medical assistance and supplies, as well as educational and vocational training within their existing communities. These services will not only benefit the refugees, but also the lives of the local populations.

A host country cannot be expected to bear the brunt of the refugee influx on its own. Furthermore, camp situations are often unable to provide anything beyond basic necessities, and do not allow refugees enough economic freedom to become more self-reliant. Because of this, international aid is used at a faster rate. As the world experiences a surge in refugees, rethinking how to provide a safe place for refugees while also considering the effects on local populations is essential in order to avoid the development of further conflict.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: IRIN, U.S. Department of State, The New York Times, UNHCR
Photo: IRIN

Try to imagine back to when you were in elementary school. Most children are happy living without major troubles, or at least children in the United States. Many do not have much to worry about. Most American children are going to school and are living stress-free lives. They are enjoying themselves, playing outside with their friends or playing video games, but the same could not be said for the children of Syria.

Millions on children have been affected by the conflict going on Syria for past three years, 6.5 million, to be exact. Over 2.8 million children are no longer attending school and more then one million are refugees in nearby countries. They no longer live their normal stress-free lives; they do not have “normal” childhoods.

Many Syrian children have endured horrible health issues due to poor sanitation and many are also malnourished. Many also face diseases such as measles and polio due to lack of proper immunizations.

Parents often turn to marrying their daughters off at early ages, as early as 13 years old, so that they do not get molested. Syrian refugee children are more vulnerable to rape and other acts of sexual violence.

In Syria, three million children no longer attend school, mostly because their schools have been destroyed, teachers have left and families are now using schools as homes. Other children quit school to work so that they could help make income to support their families.

The Lebanese government has been trying to help by setting up schools for child refugees but there have been problems such as overcrowding, language barriers and cost of transportation.

UNICEF has been helping since day one and partnering up with others to help. The organization has also immunized more than 20 million children when there was a polio breakout, supplied safe drinking water and provided psychological support.

Save The Children is another organization that has been getting involved and helping child refugees. Anyone could help through UNICEF or Save the Children. Just remember that you would not your children having to go through such horrible living conditions on a day-to-day basis.

– Priscilla Rodarte

Sources: Save the Children, World Vision, UNICEF
Photo: World Vision