Has the civil war in Syria been obscured by COVID-19?

Millions of Syrians have been displaced and killed since the escalating civil war in Syria began in 2011. Seen here are people among the rubble of North-western Syria. Photo courtesy of UOSSM, Canada office.

While many throughout the United States this past 4th of July holiday weekend were disappointed that celebrations were cancelled due to the Coronavirus, the reality of our current liberty in the US continues to be a beacon of hope for thousands if not millions of people all over, especially in places like Syria.

As the Coronavirus has taken center stage, other concerns of the world, like the civil war that has been going on in Syria since 2011 have become obscured. This reporter was reminded of the nine-year conflict unexpectedly as I was reading a new book entitled “The Narrow Corridor: States, Society & the Fate of Liberty” by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robertson.

Book by Daron Acemoglu, an economist professor at MIT and James A. Robinson, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, provides a very detailed outline of what happens when democracies fail. Book cover photo courtesy of Penguin Random House (2019)

In the preface, the two authors spell out the reason for their book. It’s a collection of connecting essays all concerned with the subject of liberty. Yet, at the very start of the book, in the preface, the two authors point to the devastation of Syria.

People in places like Syria (in the Middle East and other parts of the world) flea to escape violence and fear. Which also includes an escape from unjust extreme punishment and draconian social sanctions. Both Acemoglu and Robertson point out that the prosperity a bountiful society like the United States enjoys is not possible without liberty.

The authors also note that “Liberty is rare” and has been so throughout most of human history. People can only have liberty when they have freedom. It is a basic aspiration of all humans worldwide.

Yet, liberty and freedom can’t thrive when a government is at its worst. And, as they also illustrate a government can’t be fair or just unless society stands up and holds it accountable.

For almost a decade, a multi-sided civil war has been going on after the people in Syria protested the autocratic rule of President Bashar al-Assaad. In essence what was initially a small protest, escalated into a major conflict because of the harsh reaction of Assad and his supporters. This atrocious war (as detailed at Wikipedia) has morphed into massive destruction that as of now has devastated all of Syria.

Acemoglu and Robertson note that outside groups have each taken particular sides in the multi-faceted civil war conflict “Instead of liberty”…(the civil war) has brought “unimaginable cruelty” to all the people. “Beatings, beheadings, violence and lawlessness have become ‘the new normal’ in Syria.”

“The collapse of the Syrian state has created a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions,” note the two respected authors. Early on as the civil war forced thousands to flea, the plight of the refugees has been overlooked if not forgotten as Coronavirus news fills the airwaves.

Dr. Muhannad is among those attending to the refugees and displaced. Since destruction has become common place makeshift medical camps like this one in Syria try to the attend to the needs of millions. Photo courtesy of UOSSM.

Speaking on behalf of the UOSSM – Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, Naja Allouche said. “The situation in areas of displacement is already catastrophic with millions living without even the basic necessities of life including food, shelter, and clean water. More than half of the displaced throughout all of Syria are children. Now, with COVID-19 the situation could be even more devastating,” she said.

Allouch went on further saying. “In crowded camps where multiple families live in one tent, there is no option to social distance. Water and soap are considered a luxury and many of the people have weakened immune systems from years of war and suffering, which could have an even worse effect if the Coronavirus were to reach the camps.”

According to the World Food Program, the price of food for a typical family in only the last six months has risen in inflation by 200 percent. To understand this type of inflation, UOSSM Director of Communications Avi D’Souza pointed out. “Since the beginning of May (of this year) the value of the Syrian Pound has more than diminished by half. The official rate has gone from 704 to 1,256 Syrian Pounds to one United States Dollar.”

D’Souza went on to say. “Many grocers, shops and pharmacies have shut-down as business owners cannot keep up with the changing prices. The UN estimates 11 million people were already in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria – (before May of 2020).”

(Now as COVID-19) takes hold, he added. “According to a WFP survey in April, 9.3 million people had food insecurity, and 87 percent had no savings.”

Yet, what is even more distressing is the fact that with all the destruction the basic infrastructure is not there. Important things like adequate medical care, emergency crews, etc. these are all struggling amid situations that are most urgent.

Seen here are the resultless of an airstrike upon Arhiha, Syria. All infrastructure is devastated. Photo courtesy of UOSSM.

As dire as things have been Allouch noted, “UOSSM has responded with the following measures:

  • Sterilization of 3 camps
  • Distribution of over 1000 hygiene kits containing personal care for women and children
  • The establishment of an isolation center and a distance learning center in Afrin
  • Distribution of educational awareness brochures about COVID-19 for families in areas of displacement
  • Tele-health services are being provided in Syria and Turkey
  • Distribution of over 3000 Nutrition and Food Baskets in areas of displacement

All health centers are abiding by and observing COVID-19 safety measures, she said such as pre-scanning in isolated tent before entering center, social distancing, wearing protective gear, and sanitizing all surfaces.” Donations and assistance to the people of Syria is tremendously needed.”

UOSSM (Union des Organisations de Secours et Soins Médicaux) provides free medical aid to the people of Syria regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion or political affiliation. UOSSM international, founded by Syrian Doctors around the world, started in 2012 and operates hospitals and clinics inside Syria. UOSSM has performed over 2,000,000 medical treatments inside Syria since inception.  To learn more visit the UOSSM web site.