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Letters of HopeThe civil war in Syria has now entered its ninth year. Through the fog of a seemingly endless war, even the United Nations lost track of the number of lives lost in the conflict. The last estimate in 2016 placed casualty numbers well over 400,000. The remaining Syrians are not only battling for their country, but also for their hope. The CARE Letters of Hope initiative wants to help with that.

Today in Syria

In January of 2018, Turkey launched an assault on Syria’s northern regions to push out Kurdish rebels in control of the area around Afrin. In April, the United States, Britain and France carried out multiple punitive strikes on Syrian targets in response to various claims of a chemical attack in Douma. Now in 2019, the future of the conflict and the ramifications of U.S. plans to withdraw troops from the nation remain unknown. In the face of such great uncertainty, Syria not only needs extensive aid in reconstructing the country but hope that there are still people who recognize Syrians’ humanity and distress.

The Letters of Hope Initiative

With over 12 million of their countrymen displaced and scattered, Syrian refugees need hope, acceptance and a kind word now more than ever. It is because of this need for connection among refugees and the outside world that the CARE Letters of Hope initiative was born. In 1945, 22 American organizations came together to assemble life-saving care packages to World War II survivors in danger of starvation; CARE was born. By May of 1946, 15,000 packages of U.S. Army surplus food parcels reached the harbor of Le Havre, France. These parcels were designed to provide one meal for 10 soldiers. $10 was enough to buy a CARE Package, which was received by its addressee overseas within four months.

More recently, in response to the Syrian crisis, CARE started sending a new kind of package: encouraging letters addressed to refugees. This project, named the Letters of Hope initiative, began in 2016 when the original WWII CARE Package recipients living in the U.S. started writing letters of support to Syrian children. By doing so, they started “bridging the great distance and circumstances that separated them.” That simple act inspired thousands across the globe to send their own letters that kept the movement alive and well to the modern day.

The Letters of Hope initiative has also started branching out into schools. Its website now provides downloadable junior-high classroom lessons with the aims to “build understanding, empathy and connections between American students and young refugees around the world.”

The Fledgling Fund

The Letters of Hope initiative is made possible in part by support from The Fledgling Fund. The Fledgling Fund is an organization that explores the impact that documentary films and other forms of visual storytelling have on social change and advocacy. By creating awareness of humanitarian crises through engaging content, the Fund is able to emotionally move an audience to action. In tandem, Letters of Hope and the Fledgling Fund are vying to tell a story of hope and compassion for Syria and other nations in need without excluding Syrians and other oppressed people from the narrative.

Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

5 Development Projects in SyriaSyria, home to many diverse ethnic and religious groups, is a country that has lost hundreds of thousands of lives to war and violence. Because of this crisis, millions of people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, and development projects in Syria aim to address this need.

Like many countries in the world, Syria is fighting extreme poverty. According to the United Nations Development Programme, four out of five Syrians live in poverty and 64.7 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. The Arab region is the only region in the world where poverty has increased since 2010, rising from 28 percent in 2010 to 83.4 percent in 2015.

Here is a list of five development projects in Syria that may help relieve the nation’s citizens.

  1. Switzerland donates ambulances to Syria’s suffering population
    Switzerland financed twelve new ambulances to help the people of Syria facing the consequences of the war. Syria was in need of more ambulances as a result of the devastatingly high number of victims caused by the war, including attacks against hospitals. The vehicles were purchased through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Dubai. This project was completed in 2017.
  2. Contribution to UNRWA’s Programme Budget 2017-2020
    The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is one of Switzerland’s key multilateral partners in the Middle East, addressing all kinds of humanitarian aid needs, including medical services, education, emergency assistance, healthcare and more. With more funds contributed to its budget, it has been able to work toward universal access to quality primary health care, basic education, relief and social services to refugees in need. This is an ongoing project expected to be completed by 2020.
  3. Swiss experts to U.N. agencies in the frame of the regional crises in the Middle East
    Through this completed project, experts from Switzerland were able to provide technical support and advice. The experts accounted for the provision of shelter in camps and noncamp settings for vulnerable displaced persons; for a multisector and multistakeholder strategy for cash-based response for IDPs, refugees and host communities; for the protection of the most vulnerable population, including children and youth; advice and strategic planning on activities in the domain of water; and support to the coordination of humanitarian interventions within the U.N. agencies and national/international actors.
  4. Contribution to UNRWA’s General Fund 2016
    Contributions to UNRWA’s 2016 General Fund allows for the sustaining of the agency’s humanitarian and human development programs, servicing over five million Palestine refugees and contributing to peace and stability in the Middle East. This completed project targeted Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. Results included financial support enabling various programs in health and education, and management reforms including resource mobilization, ERP and more.
  5. UNDP- Livelihoods Restoration in Crisis- Affected Communities in Syria
    This completed two-year project worked on restoration interventions in Rural Damascus, Horns, Tartous and Latakia. The project created local economic opportunities and restored critical community infrastructure and services, improving access to hygiene and other basic needs.

These committed development projects in Syria leave marks of improvement and hope in a nation that has been ravaged by violence and poverty for far too long.

Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr

Damage to Infrastructure in Syria Entering Seventh Year of WarWarring factions in the six-year Syrian civil war have deliberately targeted both civilians and civilian infrastructure. While the international Commission of Inquiry on Syria has called the establishment of safe zones for civilians “a step in the right direction,” the lack of infrastructure has not allowed for improved delivery of humanitarian aid.

The prolonged crisis, which has resulted in massive displacement of refugees both within the country and internationally, has resulted in the destruction of infrastructure systems including provision of water, electricity and sanitation. Additionally, social infrastructure such as schools and healthcare centers have been severely damaged or destroyed altogether. Without these systems, civilians have experienced increasingly vulnerable living conditions in affected communities.

A World Bank report issued in July 2017 estimated that, as of early 2017, the Syrian civil war has damaged or destroyed about a third of the housing stock and about half of medical and education facilities, and led to significant economic loss. The destruction of physical infrastructure, though, does not attest to the full toll of the war. World Bank called the visible impacts only “the tip of the iceberg.”

To calculate the extent of the damage, the report used satellite imagery in conjunction with traditional and social media postings for information on the state of the country. The specific targeting of health and education infrastructure in Syria has resulted in significant disruptions with communicable diseases reemerging. The warring factions often use schools as military installations as well.

Often overlooked, solid waste management systems continue to be one of the most affected services reliant on infrastructure in Syria. The equipment and heavy machinery used for waste removal has been looted, destroyed or not functioning due to lack of maintenance and parts. As a result, waste piles in the streets serve as breeding grounds for rodents and insects, polluting the environment and increasing the risk of disease.

The World Bank estimates that by comparing current circumstances with a projection of how Syria would have developed in the absence of conflict, the war has caused a loss of $226 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This total comes to around four times the entire Syrian GDP in 2010.

The United Nations Development Programme aims to stabilize local communities and promote the return of internally displaced individuals by restoring and repairing basic social infrastructure and services in severely affected areas. However, the U.N.’s ability to distribute aid has been severely limited by the Syrian government, armed groups, continued insecurity and fighting. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Meuller, told the U.N. Security Council, “despite reductions in violence, we have not been able to noticeably increase our reach.”

With more than 13 million Syrians in need of aid, more needs to be done to restore infrastructure in Syria and provide access to food, health care and other basic needs.

– Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

Displaced_refugees_Syria

Every day an entire town’s worth of people is rendered homeless.

23,000 persons per day are forced to flee their homes, according to a United Nations report. By the numbers, this is akin to the evacuation of entire American towns. Due to conflict or persecution, these persons must rely on aid provided by various domestic and international organizations, placing strain on already weakened local economies and food supplies. The vast majority of these persons – over 80% – are hosted by developing nations.

Not only are local economies suffering as a result of displacement, the burden is also felt by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which logged some 35.8 million persons of concern in 2012. As a reference point, the population of California, the largest state in the U.S, is approximately 38.1 million people. In Pakistan, the number of refugees in relation to economic capacity is 552 persons to every $1 of GDP per capita, an astonishing statistic by our measurements.

In response to displacement concerns in Syria, a state in which 70% Palestinian refugees are displaced by conflict in addition to the Syrians themselves, the Obama administration has authorized an additional $300 million in humanitarian relief funds. This brings the total amount of aid given to Syria to nearly $815 million, making the U.S. the single-largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

These contributions will be used “to help feed, shelter, and provide medical care for children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria,” according to a recent press release from the White House. The move is especially significant for efforts to increase global poverty relief and awareness in U.S. foreign affairs as it represents a clear recognition of an American responsibility to protect people worldwide.

In spite these commendable contributions, there remains a wide discrepancy between the number of refugees being hosted by developing countries and nations more capable of hosting displaced persons. To wit, UNHCR’s recent report  shows that more than half of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate resided in countries where the GDP per capita was below $5,000 in 2012. Pakistan and Iran hosted the largest number of refugees. Clearly, there is a great need for the U.S. and other developed countries to support refugees and the countries that host them.

– Herman Watson

Source: New York Times, UN Refugee Agency, Huffington Post, NBC News, The White House
Photo: NBC News

syria
The Syrian Civil War has led to hundreds of Syrians fleeing out of the country. While this has helped them escape from the dangerous fighting and uncertain living that is prevalent in Syria today (to a large extent), it has also led to an array of problems as outside countries try to feed, house, school, and protect Syrian refugees. For many surrounding countries, there is no question as to whether help and support should be provided to refugees. Rather, the question comes in the form of from where. Where will the money come from to provide the necessities of food, education, and housing?

This is where the UN has stepped in, overcompensating for promised funding from Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates that has failed to appear. Yet, with its current spending, the UN fund is running low and borrowing heavily. The results of this type of spending will not only have heavy consequences for future aid for Syrian refugees but for other areas in which the UN provides funding as well.

On its current track, the UN Food Programme is projected to spend $1 billion a year, at a rate of $18 million a week. Yet, only half of this amount is actually being raised from donor countries according to Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of WFP. The UN Food Programme, Cousin says, is “borrowing money from other areas of the organisation.” The UN is calling for Gulf countries to step up and provide the funding they promised to ensure that Syrian refugees continue to receive support and aid. In January, when the UN was appealing to many countries to pledge aid support, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates each promised $300 million. Yet, in the months since the pledge, none of this money has surfaced leaving the UN, and the UN Food Programme specifically, in a very tough spot.

The WFP funding crisis comes at a very difficult time in the Syrian War as it is approaching its third year and Syrian refugee numbers continue to rise. There is much tension among host countries as they try to compensate for increases in population and provide humane and sanitary living quarters. Protests have broken out in countries such as Turkey resulting in military police intervention. The funding crisis only makes this more difficult as there is less money to ensure safe and humane practices.

The push for collecting aid from Gulf countries has become a top priority of the UN. Without more money, humanitarians are worried that more and more outbreaks and protests could occur in host countries leading to more stress in an already stressful situation.

-Angela Hooks
Source: Financial Times
Photo:NBC News