Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Syria’s children: A dying shame

Photo via @Fsa_Media_Hub
The shock, the horror, the shame, the heartbreak… I was left speechless by the above photo of a child in Syria.

Is such human tragedy possible in the 21st century?

The international community’s claim that the task of stopping Syria’s murderous regime is difficult cannot be reason enough to turn a blind eye to the Syrian people’s suffering.

How do American, European, Russian and Chinese politicians have the chutzpah to look their own children in the eye?

I had read a report by Save the Children warning the lack of access to food, soaring prices and a collapse in food production has left the children of Syria at risk of malnutrition.

But a picture is worth a million words and reports!

Save the Children gathered testimonies from refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries, as well as residents trapped by fighting and enduring siege-like conditions, who described families' desperate struggle to feed their children.

The report, Hunger in a War Zone, details how over four million Syrians -- more than two million of them children -- are unable to produce or buy enough food, with many thousands living under fire with little or no access to foodstuffs needed to survive.

Save the Children is already seeing reports that one in 20 children in rural Damascus is severely malnourished.

It heard refugee accounts of children forced to subsist off nothing more than lentils or bread for days on end, with one family trapped in their basement by explosions eating just half a loaf of bread each over the course of four days.

In a briefing on the state of hunger in Syria, released in Washington on September 23, Save the Children also details how severe food shortages are being compounded by an explosion in food prices.

The price of even the most basic food items has spiraled out of control with the cost of the most basic supplies rising by 100 percent.

The war has shattered Syria's economy. The United Nations now estimates close to seven million Syrians have been plunged into poverty since fighting began in March 2011.

In addition, Syria's agriculture and infrastructure are collapsing, with grain production falling to less than half the pre-war levels.

"The world has stood and watched as the children of Syria have been shot, shelled and traumatized by the horror of war. The conflict has already left thousands of children dead, and is now threatening their means of staying alive," said Roger Hearn, Save the Children's regional director for the Middle East.

Syria's children: "A stain on all our consciences" (Photo @Fsa_Media_Hub)
"That some children are going to bed trapped amid fighting -- terrified, alone, vulnerable -- and with empty stomachs ought to be a stain on all our consciences.

"We understand there is a political debate over what to do next in Syria, but we believe everyone can agree on the critical need for safe humanitarian access across the entire country. There is no room for delay or argument: Syria's children must not be allowed to go hungry."

A lack of security makes gathering data on child malnutrition rates extremely difficult throughout Syria.

However, all available evidence -- including spiraling food outlays, a collapse of infrastructure and food production, and testimonies of individuals' experiences with hunger -- suggests Syria's children are facing a mounting struggle to survive.

What will we do about this? More importantly, what will the powers that be do about this?

Addressing the question of what needs to be done, Save the Children is calling for:
  • The UN Security Council to unite around measures to secure full, safe, and unimpeded access to all areas of Syria by the most effective routes
  • International donors to increase support for humanitarian operations throughout all of Syria by any possible channel, as well as scaling up support for refugees and host communities in neighboring countries
  • The UN Secretary General to find ways to increase UN support for a humanitarian response that covers the whole of Syria, including those areas where the UN itself is not based
  • Syria’s neighbors to keep borders open and to work with the UN and humanitarian agencies to ensure a reliable humanitarian supply chain for operations in Syria, including facilitating aid across borders where delivering aid through other routes is not possible or effective
  • All parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate the effective and safe passage of aid to all populations in need, including easing bureaucratic constraints and agreeing on priority humanitarian routes across conflict lines or borders if needed.