Collateral damage

This citizen journalism image provided by Aleppo Media Center AMC which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)

While supporters of both the Assad regime and the opposition are pouring assistance into Syria, this has in essence been arms with which to kill each other. However, what is gravely needed is humanitarian support.

Those people who are most suffering, whether they are some of the 1.4 million who have left the country, or whether they remain in Syria, are noncombatants. Those ordinary people have been swept up in a war in which they play no active part. But somehow, they are the ones suffering most acutely, with loved ones lost, homes destroyed, little or no access to work and education, and a lack of food and basic medical supplies. They are seen as collateral damage by world onlookers and backers of both sides of this dreadful conflict.

Groups in support of each side are claiming to send in humanitarian aid, but often this has not materialized on time, if at all, and it sometimes appears to be little more than a PR stunt. Yes, the United Nations and other actors are doing what they can, but without genuine international backing they can only do so much.

Access within Syria is another crucial issue. With fierce and often sporadic fighting erupting across the country on a daily basis, humanitarian groups often find themselves in the middle of a battle. That is before even having to venture out to deliver badly needed supplies. It is clear that some areas are being neglected. Malnutrition is rife and many thousands are going hungry.

The current death toll for Syria, at least 70,000, tells but half the story. For many thousands more, although still alive physically, are dying in other ways, their spirits crushed and their hope lost. For internally displaced people and refugees alike, poverty is endemic, when once families likely had access to employment and a certain standard of living. Such a life would be hard to bear at the best of times, but with a backdrop of one’s home, one’s country, being systematically destroyed – while the world looks on – this is what drives people to despair.

This situation was perhaps most clearly, and depressingly, defined at the hospital bedside of a 19-year-old Syrian refugee in Beirut this week. Once a positive, optimistic young boy, his father said, he had been driven to a dark place, plagued by money worries and other concerns.

In this day and age, it is horrific that such widespread human tragedy is allowed to continue. The international money flowing into Syria needs to go to food and medicine, not weapons. This human tragedy, experienced by so many and likely to be felt for generations to come, needs urgent attention. Even if the war finished tomorrow, many problems would live on for decades. One only has to look at the issues which continue to weigh down on Palestinian refugees 60 years on. What is happening now is an insult to the sanctity of human life, and the world is choosing to look the other way.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 01, 2013, on page 7.




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