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The Turning Point

March 15, 2023 marked 12 years since the Syrian Revolution was fanned to flame. What began as peaceful protests to overturn President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2011 escalated into a brutal conflict that has claimed the lives of more than half a million, and prompted over 14 million people to flee the West Asian nation since then.

On the 12th anniversary of the revolution, the UN called for durable solution to end the war in Syria. Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy to Damascus, said: “The situation in Syria is untenable and to carry on in the same manner, defies humanity and logic.” He also said that the challenges Syria was facing after the deadly February 6 earthquakes “were a stark reminder that the status quo is unsustainable and indefensible”. It may be noted that a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked northern Syria and southern Turkey on February 6, 2023, killing more than 50,000 people in the two nighbouring countries, apart from causing widespread devastation.

Pedersen confirmed that the earthquake affected nearly nine million people in Syria, damaging mainly the north-western region of the country that is considered as the last stronghold of the opposition. Talking to the media, the UN Special Envoy stressed on the “collective humanitarian imperative to depoliticise relief efforts”, emphasising the need for access via all modalities, generous resources, and sustained calm.

According to Pedersen, a political solution is required to end the war in Syria. He insisted: “We cannot limit our collective efforts to the humanitarian response alone. Syria is devastated, divided, and impoverished, in an active state of conflict, its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity compromised.” He added: “Without a comprehensive political solution to resolve these issues, one that restores Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and enables the Syrian people to live in dignity and chart their own future, Syrians’ pain will endure.

The Envoy is of the opinion that the February 6 earthquake is a possible turning point as far as the global support to Syria is concerned. Since the incident, “humanitarian steps from all sides that have moved beyond previous positions, even if temporarily”, he told the press. He further stressed on confidence building measures, resuming and substantively advancing constitutional talks, and working towards a nationwide ceasefire, stating: “We need to see the same logic applied on the political front, to help find a way forward.” He also expressed serious concern over the untold sufferings, including loss of life, livelihood, home and hope, of the Syrian people since 2011.

Meanwhile, El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the interim UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, and Muhannad Hadi, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, have issued a joint statement, mentioning: “Syria remains one of the world’s most complex humanitarian and protection emergencies with 15.3 million people across the country assessed to be in need of humanitarian assistance this year – the highest number of people in need since the onset of the conflict.” They have claimed that the Syrians are struggling to survive, as their country has experienced the largest displacement crisis in the world. According to Benlamlih and Hadi, the war has so far uprooted nearly 6.8 million people inside the country, and roughly the same number of people have started living abroad as refugees. Furthermore, the crisis has pushed millions of Syrians to the brink of survival due to the collapse of basic services, the cholera outbreak, skyrocketing food and energy prices, and economic crisis.

Benlamlih and Hadi believe that the devastating earthquake has only added “yet another layer of tragedy and despair”. They have stated that aid is not enough to normalise the situation in the war-ravaged West Asian country, which also needs the humanitarian community’s full commitment to continue to assist people across Syria, and its support for resilience and early recovery efforts. The joint statement mentioned: “There must be a durable and comprehensive solution to end the conflict in Syria. All stakeholders must show the determination to continue pursuing lasting peace for the Syrian people to rebuild their devastated lives.

The top UN officials have also expressed concern over the rising child malnutrition in Syria. Earlier, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that the ongoing war and the earthquake left millions of young Syrians at heightened risk of malnutrition. According to UNICEF, nearly 13,000 boys and girls have been killed since the conflict began in 2011. The UN agency, responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, mentioned in its latest report that around 609,000 Syrian children under the age of five were stunted (a condition that results from chronic undernutrition and which causes irreversible physical and mental damage). The report claimed that the number of young children, suffering from severe acute malnutrition, increased by nearly 50% from 2021 to 2022. “When children suffer from acute malnutrition, their immune system weakens, and they are 11 times more likely to die than well-nourished children,” explained UNICEF.

For his part, Adele Khodr, the Regional Director (for the Middle East and North Africa) of UNICEF, said that it would not be possible for children to wait more for nutrient rich foods. “The children of Syria cannot wait any longer. After years of conflict, and two ctoatastrophic earthquakes, the futures of millions of children hang by a thread. It is our collective responsibility to reaffirm to children that their future is our priority too,” stressed Khodr.

Currently, Syrian families are struggling hard to meet their needs mainly because of soaring prices of essential commodities and the economic crisis, with nearly 90% of the population living in poverty.

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