The Humanitarian Toll Of Syria’s Conflict On Children

The Syrian conflict, which has been raging for more than two years, continues to take its toll on the increasing numbers of those living under the poverty line, affecting most notably children’s access to nutrition.

al-monitor Syrian schoolgirls sit for their lessons in a UNICEF school at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, June 25, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

Topics covered

water, syrian, food, disease, children

Jun 27, 2013

“The exchange rate of the US dollar has fallen; the exchange rate has risen.” This is not a passing news story in Syria. It shows how hard and miserable life is for every citizen who — amid ruthless violence — struggles to put food in his mouth and provide his children and himself with the most basic needs. Two and a half years have passed since the revolution broke out and exacerbated violence has led to additional pain. It has caused the relatively quiet areas to flood with many families who have fled death and destruction, and lack the minimum requirements to lead a decent life.

Many Syrian families are sharing simple, collectively made meals, at the lowest possible cost. Many mothers make bread at home to avoid long queues in front of the bakeries, waiting for luck to come to get a loaf of bread if there is any.

“Every day, the grocer surprises me with new prices. Every day, I reduce the quantity of my purchases,” a woman from Damascus said. She added, “The total income for my husband and me combined is no longer enough to provide ourselves and our children even with food, let alone other needs. I daily think of those poor families. Oh God, I do not know how can they manage their situation!”

Another woman said, “We swear to God that we fear that one of our children will get sick, and we know that we are unable to pay the physician or buy medicine.” Then she lifted her head toward the sky and begged out loud: “Oh God, please keep my children away from diseases and harm.”

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) revealed that two years following the revolution, the number of poor in Syria exceeds 10 million — half of whom live below the poverty line — while the number of refugees in neighboring countries exceeds 1 million. [ESCWA added that] there are more than 4 million internally displaced, and there are tens of thousands of martyrs and missing persons.

Prior to the crisis, Syrian society had already suffered from high poverty and unemployment that affected nutrition, education and health care. During the current crisis, this has sharply increased, and the poverty map has changed, where the number of poor and people in need increased in the most disputed and violent areas.

Things have worsened with a disruption of services, difficulty in securing the basics of living — such as water, food, medicine, fuel and electricity, etc. —  and the negative effect of these factors on every aspect of life, hospital work, health services, education and social welfare.

Poverty, malnutrition ... and diseases

Recent reports issued by children’s right organizations indicate that nearly 2 million Syrian children suffer from malnutrition, given the scarcity of some food products and the spoilage of others, and the impact of the situation raging in the country on children’s health in particular — which is deteriorating in an unprecedented way. For instance, the necessary and compulsory vaccines for children in early stages of development have become a luxury. The list goes on and on.

Yet, it is necessary to recall that emergency situations, war and revolutions do not only have an impact on the children’s state of mind and evolution of their character. They also affect their normal growth and physical development. In fact, failing to provide children with food and necessary materials leads to stunted growth and other diseases, causing the deaths of these children, who become innocent victims of political conflict, violence, killings and arrests.

Malnutrition is the reason for 35% of the diseases that generally afflict children under the age of 5.

For infants and young children, proper diet is considered the main factor that promotes their growth and reduces child mortality. The question that should be asked is on the fate of newborn babies in disputed areas — where there is a lack of ability to provide children with vital supplies amid turmoil, violence and the deteriorating infrastructure and basic services.

The question that should be asked is about the fate of these innocent people, in the light of the lack of clean drinking water, the unavailability of milk, contaminated food and malnourished and ill mothers unable to feed their children. Add to this that they suffer from homelessness, extreme fear and worries with the sound of bullets and explosions, which cause many mothers to lose the ability to produce breast milk to feed their babies.

Theoretically, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that every child must be protected, and have the necessary opportunities and facilities for a healthy and normal physical, mental, moral, spiritual and social development, within an environment of freedom and dignity. The convention is yet to be practically implemented, in the light of the current tragedy that is open to all possibilities, as the case is with the future of the Syrians at present.

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