The conflict continues in Syria: what can be done?
Millions have fled violence over the last nine years of conflict in Syria. Today, millions are in need of humanitarian aid. This is a short explainer on the conflict, which has become one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises
How did the crisis begin?
For almost a decade, the suffering of Syria’s people has been in the news. Millions have fled the country, and half a million people have died. The situation can seem helpless, and it’s true that it will take decades to recover.
But without humanitarian aid, millions of Syrians - young and old, women and men, people who have already had to flee the conflict up to ten times - will continue to suffer. The consequences of inaction could be grave. A staggering 11.1 million people in Syria need aid as the conflict carries on.
The Syria crisis is still the largest and most complex humanitarian crisis in the world.
Today, there are dozens of state and non-state actors involved in the fighting – making it difficult to understand what is going on.
The crisis began in 2011 when waves of pro-democracy protests were underway across large parts of the Middle East, known as the Arab Spring.
In Syria, these protests were met with force by the government and in response, riots broke out all over the country. By July 2011, armed resistance groups had formed. Before long, Syria had descended into a civil war that continues to this day.
What was Syria like before?
It’s easy to forget that Syria has an incredibly rich history and culture. It has played a crucial role in thousands of years of ancient history, from Greek and Roman times to the medieval period and the Ottoman Empire.
Before the crisis, over 21 million people lived in Syria. Over 60 per cent lived in urban areas, and many were old cities that were also home to countless mosques and souks – among them six UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
All six sites are now either destroyed or severely damaged. One site, Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old Arch of Triumph, was destroyed after Islamic State took control of the area in 2015. Many other cultural and heritage sites have been shelled during the conflict.
The agricultural sector was also strong before the war, with people farming wheat, sheep, vegetables, olives and many other crops. Until the conflict took hold, Syria produced enough food for its people. However, a serious drought that began several years before the conflict spurred people to move to cities, adding to the serious difficulties farmers now face because of the fighting.
What is the situation today on the ground?
Today, the situation in Syria remains complex.
Fighting is concentrated in the north-west of the country around Idlib province – the last rebel stronghold.
Idlib is home to around three million people, half of whom were transferred there from other parts of Syria.
Since December 2019, more than 900,000 people have been forced to flee the area by a deadly government offensive – the single largest displacement since the conflict began.
Weeks of aerial bombardment have emptied entire towns in the north-west Idlib province and sent huge numbers of civilians fleeing north towards the Turkish border.
The exodus, which coincides with a biting winter, is made up overwhelmingly of women and children.
Today, there are just over 17.3 million people left in Syria: around three to four million people have fled the country and around 570,000 have been killed over the past decade. Outside of Idlib, active fighting has largely ended but the situation remains dire. More than eight out of ten people - 83 per cent - live beneath the poverty line, unable to meet their basic needs.
There is widespread lack of food, and a third of the population is classed as ‘food insecure’, which means that they may not know where their next meal is coming from. Fuel and basic medicines are scarce for people who have been forced to leave their homes – sometimes many times over.
How is the Red Cross and Red Crescent helping?
The people who are able to return often find their homes partially or completely destroyed – their cities and villages unlivable owing to a lack of basic services. This has left the economy in ruins, although people are still working, buying food when possible, and keeping on going in whatever way they can. Thanks in part to the Red Cross’s support, people are doing all they can to rebuild the lives they once had.
In total, an estimated 11.1m people still need humanitarian assistance inside the country. That’s over 2 million more than the population of London.
People need psychological support as well. Just try to imagine the emotional impact of losing or repeatedly having to flee your home, seeing family members killed, and the uncertainty over the wellbeing of other family and friends.
There is a whole generation of children in Syria now who can’t remember a time without conflict. Support for them and their parents to get enough food, catch up on their education, stay healthy and deal with the trauma they have experienced will be needed for years to come.
Now that fighting has ended in many areas of the country, there is an urgent need to help people begin to recover and rebuild their lives. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement reaches more communities in Syria than any other organisation. Over six million people have directly benefited from our help.
Sadly, this impact has not been without cost. Many members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been killed in the fighting while trying to support their communities.
Together, since the conflict began, we have provided 580,000 food items and distributed over 1.6 million other items, such as blankets and mattresses.
We are also helping people learn new skills and earn a living by growing vegetables. Much of our support focuses on women and children, including widows and families headed by women, so we also provide safe spaces for women and girls.
Once the Crisis ends, millions of refugees now living in neighbouring countries are expected to return to Syria. The Red Cross and Red Crescent will be there to help them and all Syrians rebuild their country and their lives.
The crisis in Syria
Our volunteers are delivering food, medicine and other essentials to people in need across Syria. If you’d like to hear more about how we’re helping there, click below to see where your donation could go.Donate