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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

Za’atariAccording 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

Presbyterian_Disaster_Assistance

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

syrian-children
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

refugees in lebanon
While the current international focus in the Middle East has centered around Syria and the recent violence in Iraq, the impact of increased civil strife across the region will have serious implications for Lebanon.

The Syrian civil war has been going on for four years now, bleeding out into other areas as millions have been displaced from their homes. A huge influx of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Lebanon over the past several years, contributing to rising tension within Lebanon’s borders.

In order to escape the violence in their country, nearly 2.5 million Syrians have fled. There are currently over one million refugees in Lebanon alone; nearly half of the total number.

Lebanon’s current political system will not have a high tolerance for conflict as the country has just recently come out of a 15-year civil war.

The problem with Syrian refugees in Lebanon will come with challenges beyond the normal problems associated with displaced people. Refugees from Syria have the potential to increase sectarian violence among Sunni and Shiite communities. The Shiite militant organization Hezbollah supports Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This provokes violence in Lebanon from an outraged Sunni community. The Sunni faction ISIS has been taking advantage of a weak government in both Syria and Iraq in order to take control of areas in hopes of creating their own Islamic state.

When leaders of Lebanon’s religious factions lose control over their territories, historically, chaos breaks out. Attacks occur in the form of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings.

Apart from violence, the refugee overflow overwhelms Lebanon’s already fragile infrastructure. Water, electricity and waste management systems have the potential to break down. This could lead to a disastrous shortage of water and electricity which in turn would allow for the spread of disease and contamination.

The United States knows that preventing escalating conflict in Lebanon is necessary to avoid further violence across the region, and to decrease the likelihood of extremists groups expanding. Renewed conflict in Lebanon could also threaten Israel, a U.S. ally, if religious extremists groups continue to grow.

There is no easy solution to growing tension in Lebanon due to the increasing number of refugees. In order to avoid a renewed conflict in Lebanon, state institutions must be effective in calming the growing violence and tension between religious groups. Additionally, public healthcare and sanitation services must be enhanced.

According to Council of Foreign Relations Senior Advisor Monica Yaccoubiana, avoiding a conflict in Lebanon will take a huge effort to mitigate spillover effects of the Syrian conflict. These efforts must include ensuring humanitarian access to civilians inside Syria, working with the United Nations to improve access for aid groups, increase funding for assistance and initiating high level meetings between global political leaders and Lebanese officials in order to encourage consensus building and implement solutions.

– Caroline Logan

Sources: CFR, BBC, UNHCR
Photo: Al Jazeera

syrian_orphans
Since the Syrian civil war began to flare in 2011, more than 2 million Syrians have fled the country in order to seek refuge and safety. Most of the refugees — about 1,130,000 of them — have relocated to Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon. Other countries are granting immigration visas, humanitarian visas or loosening up their asylum grants in order to aid the cause.

José Mujica, president of Uruguay, has taken the cause into his own hands. He has decided to not only open up his country, but also his very home to 100 Syrian orphans, all put in their current position by the conflict. Although this appears to be an unusual and bold move, Mujica is the right man to execute it.

José Alberto Mujica Cordano spent the 60’s and 70’s as a member of the Uruguayan guerrilla Tupamaros, where he was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail, only being released when Uruguay returned to a democracy in 1985. He believes his background and time spent in jail has helped form his outlook on life.

Mujica has been President of Uruguay since 2010. He has gained worldwide popularity as “The World’s Poorest President” because of his choice to donate 90 percent of his salary to charities and small entrepreneurs throughout the country, leaving his salary at about $775 a month. He drives a Volkswagon Beetle and lives in a farmhouse right outside of Montevideo with his wife, where they work the land themselves. He says this about his lifestyle:

“I’m called the poorest president, but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more,” and “I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”

He also stated at the Rio+20 summit in June that if all countries consumed at the same rate as the rich ones, then we would be adding further harm to our planet. Thus, envying their status and wealth does nothing for them.

The plan is for the children to begin arriving around September from refugee camps in the Middle East. The exact number of people is still to be decided, since the Uruguayan government has to work out the expenses, and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) protocol calls for orphans to be relocated with at least one relative.

Mujica is facing a bit of backlash from the Uruguayan people because he deviated from the original plan to consult his constituents about the issue, but he made the decision without doing so. He is also getting bad reviews for doing this international aid move when there are orphans in Uruguay that need assistance as well.

Lucia Topolansky, Mujica’s wife, says their decision to take in the Syrian orphans is one to “motivate all the countries of the world to take responsibility for this catastrophe.”

The UN is hoping to relocate another 30,000 refugees this year, and if other countries follow José Mucija’s example, they may have success in the relocation process.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: BBC, SHOAH, Elite Daily
Photo: The Guardian

sectarian_clashes
The violence and sectarian clashes emanating from Syria’s three-year long civil war continued to spill over the border into neighboring Lebanon this week, as the death toll from clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the northern port city of Tripoli rose to nearly two dozen. Seven people were killed Friday, bringing the death toll to at least 21 since the sectarian-tinged fighting erupted last week.

Since the conflict broke out in neighboring Syria, there have been on-and-off clashes between residents of Tripoli’s Sunni district of Bab al-Tabanneh (which supports the Sunni insurgents battling the Syrian government) and the Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen (which backs Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime). The latest bout of fighting was sparked on March 21, when gunmen shot and killed a Sunni man who lived in an Alawite neighborhood and had Alawite relatives.

During Friday’s violence four civilians including an elderly man were gunned down by snipers, while eleven others were wounded. About 150 people have been wounded since the latest round of violence between the Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods erupted last week. Three people injured in earlier clashes also died Friday.

The Syrian civil war–which pit rebels from Syria’s Sunni majority against a government controlled by the country’s Alawite minority and supported by Shia Iran–has stoked Sunni-Shia tensions across the Middle East, and particularly in the sectarian tinderboxes of Iraq and Lebanon.

Shia Iran and its Lebanese proxy force Hezbollah have backed Assad, a longtime ally of both Tehran and Hezbollah, while Sunni gulf states and Turkey have supported the Sunni insurgents, buttressing the rebels through the provision of light weapons and cash.

The crackdown on the largely Sunni rebels by Assad’s security forces, who are supported in their campaign by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, Iran and Iraqi militias, has enraged the insurgents’ Sunni brethren in Lebanon and across the region. This anger reached a fever pitch last May, when Hezbollah, or Party of God, openly joined Assad’s campaign to crush the rebellion.

Hezbollah’s overt intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of Assad’s regime began when the Iranian-backed Shia group sent fighters across the border to help the Syrian government retake the strategic border town of Qusair, which had been under the control of rebel forces since early 2012. Assad’s security forces, aided by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, were able to seize control of Qusair in early June following a three-week battle that enraged the Shia groups’ Sunni opponents in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria’s sectarian conflict ushered in a violent period in Lebanon, as militant Sunni groups unleashed a wave of bombings against Hezbollah and Shia targets.

– Eric Erdahl

Sources: Reuters, Reuters, BBC, Al Jazeera
Photo: Naharnet

syrian_refugees_lebanon
The Syrian conflict has continued for three years at this point and there seems to be little hope that it will be solved anytime soon. The conflict between Russia and the United States over Ukraine puts any future peace conferences in flux, and the attention of the international community has largely shifted to that part of the world. However, for the countries around Syria, the crisis there is still a daily ordeal with Syrian refugees flowing in from the beleaguered nation.

Lebanon has taken the bulk of the masses from Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict almost a million refugees have come into Lebanon and projections have that number going up to 1.5 million by the end of the year if nothing changes. A representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the influx “is equivalent to 80 million Mexicans arriving in the U.S. in 18 months… the largest per capita recipient of refugees anywhere in the world.” While Lebanon continues to generously take in the refugees, the influx has put a severe strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Studies done by the United Nations have shown that many of the refugees are settling in Lebanon’s poorest regions, where the least amount of assistance can be provided. This has left both the refugees and the Lebanese poor at a disadvantage, with little room for the country to move them.

One potential problem with this influx are tensions existing between the various religious groups in the area. Lebanon has a diverse religious population, but the many Sunni refugees coming in from Syria will upset the balance in Lebanon. With sectarian violence a key part of the Syrian conflict, worries are that tensions could erupt in Lebanon and put more people at a disadvantage.

The United Nations is trying to remedy these problems facing Lebanon. The UNHCR put out a call for $1.9 billion to help refugees in Lebanon, yet the agency still hasn’t come close to meeting that goal. Viral campaigns centered around pictures taken at refugee camps have served to attract notice, it sill has yet to be seen whether the campaigns will bring in more funding for the projects.

Lebanon might be the biggest location for Syrian refugees, but all the countries bordering Syria have been affected by the war. The World Food Program is planning to assist 2.9 million people in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. With 12,000 people coming into Lebanon a week, more help will be needed. The time to act is now, even as the countries of the West may be focused elsewhere.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: United Nations, The Daily Star, McClatchyDC
Photo: AlJazeera America