Since 2011, Syria has been embroiled in a civil war between rebel forces and its longstanding regime. The Assad family has been in power since 1971 and has failed to deliver on decades of promising political and economic reform.
Following the arrest of a group of teenagers who spray-painted graffiti denouncing the state, public outcry peaked. Protests sprang up all over the nation as citizens asked for President Bashar-Al Assad to resign. Reminiscent of Beijing’s Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, those in rule provided swift repercussions as they sent tanks out to literally crush civil disobedience. Several bombings followed in 2012 as social unrest and violence escalated.
Throughout the conflict, both sides have blamed the other for civilian casualties. More recently, American and French authorities have accused the government forces of using chemical weapons in Syria after conducting lab tests that ascertained the presence of Sarin on battlegrounds. The Syrian government has since admitted to owning chemical weapons, but has denied using them during any domestic scrimmages.
Instead, state media alleges only that chemical warfare has been waged by opposing terrorist forces. Although questions remain as to how Syria acquired its chemical weapons and how much it holds within its stock, it is important to ask what Sarin is with 22.5 million lives at stake and over 100 thousand casualties from the war.
So what is Sarin? –Sarin is a toxic nerve agent that serves as a man-made chemical weapon. Among chemical weapons, nerve agents are the most deadly. Originally developed as a pesticide by German researchers shortly before the start of World War II, the toxin has since been used in two terrorist attacks in Japan.
Sarin is colourless, odourless, and tasteless—as well as water-soluble, rendering it an invisible killer. In its natural state, sarin appears in liquid form but it can also manifest itself as a gas and spread through the atmosphere. Since the nerve agent is denser than air, it can sink lower to the ground and lend itself to greater exposure.
Sarin can even linger on and be released from fabric, allowing those initially exposed to contaminate others around them through their clothes. Within seconds of limited exposure via the eyes, skin, respiratory system or digestive tract, individuals may develop the following symptoms—difficulty breathing, fatigue, blurry vision, shrunken pupils, rhinorrhea, etc. In greater doses, sarin may cause foaming at the mouth, involuntary muscle spasms, paralysis, loss of consciousness, respiratory failure, and in the most extreme cases, death.
Although it is best to avoid contact altogether, should one be exposed to sarin, treatment should be implemented as soon as possible. In between seeking medical care, one should immediately seek higher ground, thoroughly cleanse the body and face with soap, rinse the eyes for 10 to 15 minutes, change clothes, and dispose of the old set in an airtight bag.
With the advancement of modern technology in warfare comes the heightened responsibility of all who wield its power to ensure civilian welfare. Although it may seem more instinctual to ignore the chaos of another nation, it is imperative that members of the international community collaborate and collectively seek the best solution to end the suffering of millions.
Currently, the UN awaits approval from President Assad to provide more humanitarian assistance and aid to millions of displaced Syrians and refugees—many of whom have sought asylum in Lebanon and other neighboring states.
Photo: CS Monitor