Syria: 6 facts at the start of the 4th year of Syria’s conflict

14 March, 2014
Lebanon: A woman refugee from Syria and her daughter sit together, in the Bekaa Valley. She fled Syria with her husband and four other children after their home was struck by artillery fire. Credit: UNICEF/Brooks
Lebanon: A woman refugee from Syria and her daughter sit together, in the Bekaa Valley. She fled Syria with her husband and four other children after their home was struck by artillery fire. Credit: UNICEF/Brooks

This week marks three years since the start of Syria’s brutal conflict. The UN estimates that 9 million people need aid and protection inside Syria. A further 2.5 million have fled the country, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries or in North Africa.

As the world pauses to acknowledge this grim milestone, and as the conflict enters its fourth bloody year, here are six things you need to know about the appalling impact of the fighting on Syrian women, children and men.

1. Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today. This has been true for some time. Even as crises and conflict rage in places like the Central Africa Republic and South Sudan, the humanitarian consequences of the fighting in Syria are staggering. Nine million people in the country need aid and protection. 

2. Aid workers are still struggling to reach everyone who needs support. An estimated 3 million people are living in ‘hard-to-reach’ areas. Of these, 240,000 people are literally living under siege. These areas – like Yarmouk, and like the Old City of Homs – are almost entirely isolated, with aid groups unable to enter and people unable to leave. All parties to the conflict have used siege as a weapon of war, but the majority of these 240,000 are living in areas controlled by government forces.

3. The UN has made repeated pleas for the parties to this conflict to meet their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, and to let aid groups in. In an interview with BBC Newsnight on Wednesday, UN Humanitarian Chief repeated this call: “Ordinary children, women, men shouldn’t be used in a conflict like this to make sure it’s sustained and goes on,” Ms. Amos said. “That’s the thing that we find the most frustrating: that we can’t get to the people who need help.”

4. Despite the constraints, aid groups are doing all they can. Since the beginning of this year, food has been delivered to 3.7 million people each month in both opposition and Government controlled areas. Medicines, vaccines and urgently needed medical supplies for more than 350,000 have been brought into the country and sent out to communities living in isolated areas. At least 14 cross-line convoys have provided urgently needed food, supplies and medicines for 170,000 more. All this has been done despite the incredible risks aid workers themselves have faced. Since the start of the conflict, at least 50 aid staff have been killed including 34 from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

5. Syria is the world's leading country of forced displacement. More than 9 million of its people have been uprooted from their homes, and at least half of the displaced are children. In Lebanon alone, the number of registered refugees from Syria is approaching 1 million. More and more Syrians are putting their lives at the mercy of human traffickers, as they face closed borders and pushbacks to neighbouring countries. “What kind of a world is this where Syrians fleeing this violent conflict have to risk their lives to reach safety, and when they finally make it, they are not welcomed or even turned away at borders?" asked UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

6. Unless a political solution is found, the situation will only get worse. Hard as this may be to believe, the crisis in Syria will inevitably deteriorate further unless a political solution is found. Two years ago, the world was shocked when the UN announced that 1 million people needed humanitarian assistance. That figure now stands at 9 million and it is rising all the time.

“We can watch collectively the destruction of an entire country over many more years unless we get more courage from the international community and unless we find a political solution,” Ms. Amos told the BBC.

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