News / Middle East

Column: Save the Children of Syria

Children go to school on a damaged street in  Damascus.
Children go to school on a damaged street in Damascus.
While the United States, Russia and the other parties interested in the civil war in Syria haggle over the ground rules for admission to a Geneva peace conference, Syrian children are succumbing to polio and other horrible diseases and losing precious years of schooling.
 
The civil war has destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, sanitation and water systems that once made Syria among the more developed countries in the region. Instead of arguing over who should replace Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – who shows no inclination to resign – those planning a new Geneva conference should focus on establishing local cease-fires to facilitate humanitarian access for aid workers to 5 million Syrians displaced within the country. More international financial aid is also urgently needed to help the more than 2.2 million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.
 
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization confirmed 10 cases of polio in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour  and there are likely to be many more given how quickly the crippling disease spreads in unsanitary conditions. A cease-fire would allow the U.N. and other non-governmental organizations to reach these displaced children and vaccinate them against polio and other ailments. Humanitarian workers could also provide food, warm clothing and other supplies to help Syrian families get through another bleak winter.
 
Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington earlier this week that Syrians are dying from “no access to food, clean water and medical care.” She accused the Assad regime of blocking aid from getting out of Damascus, but noted that opposition groups also man checkpoints that hinder access for relief personnel.
 
Beyond the physical needs of displaced people, the war is doing irreparable harm to the minds of millions of Syrian children. Richard said that more than half of Syria’s children no longer attend school and warned that the war is creating a “lost generation.”

Regional trauma

The problem extends to neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, where Syrian refugees now comprise nearly a third of the population, there are 280,000 Syrians of school age, most of whom have no access to education, according to Ninette Kelley, resident representative in Lebanon of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Lebanon is straining to educate its own children, who are only slightly more numerous than refugee youngsters.
 
Idle youth are vulnerable to child labor, early marriage and other forms of exploitation and are easy prey for militant groups. Failing to educate the refugees is “a prescription for future hopelessness and attraction to radical ideologies,” said Edward Gabriel, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco who is now vice chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon. One has only to think of Palestinians after various Middle East wars and of Afghans after the Soviet invasion to imagine what sorts of terrorists might be spawned by the Syrian war.
 
The best solution, obviously, would be a political solution to the war but that looks unlikely in the short or even medium term.
 
The Assad government, while it has lost control over much of Syrian territory and has no legitimacy in the opinion of millions of its citizens, has ironically been strengthened by agreeing to give up its chemical weapons arsenal. “Assad now sees himself as an essential party to a long-term contract,” says Fred Hof, a former State Department official dealing with Syria and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
 
Assad continues to enjoy the strong backing of Russia and Iran, which may no longer be enamored with the Syrian leader but see no reason to jettison him without a viable alternative.
 
The splintering Syrian opposition, meanwhile, continues to fail to provide such an alternative. The fiercest fighters are connected to al-Qaida or other extreme Sunni fundamentalist movements that have no appeal to Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians, Kurds, Shiites and of course, the ruling Alawites. The Obama administration and other “Friends of the Syrian People” have been struggling to bolster more moderate elements. But the United States has not followed through on pledges to train and arm substantial numbers of rebels, fearing that the weapons might fall into the wrong hands. That cedes the field to Gulf Arab backers who are less choosey about the recipients of lethal aid.
 
In such circumstances, Hof suggests that it might make sense to “pivot” at a prospective Geneva conference from discussing a transitional government for Syria to improving humanitarian access to Syrian civilians.
 
At the same time, countries such as Saudi Arabia – which has loudly condemned U.S. zig-zags over Syria policy – could provide more assistance to U.N. agencies struggling to meet the needs of Syrians both inside the country and in neighboring states. Otherwise, the future of the Syrian people will be even more at risk.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: PermReader
November 02, 2013 12:50 PM
Russian saying: the thief cries :stop thief! - Everybody is guilty for the Syrians`s sufferings but not the Islamists and the Islamic jihad!
We know how this blahs are named: the tokyia.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid