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The massive toll of Syria’s four-year civil war

Syrian boys walk between tents in mud from the heavy rains at a refugee camp, in the town of Marej, Lebanon, Feb. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

More than 220,000 people killed.

An estimated 4 million refugees. And another 7.6 million displaced from their homes.

More than 80 percent of lights are no longer on.

people displacedThe four-year old civil war in Syria has taken a massive toll on the people living in the country and its neighbors.  The U.N. Security Council, meant to help find a diplomatic solution to the problem, is not getting it done.

“There have been more killings, more bombings, a massive increase in displacement and a huge increase in the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance,” said Daniel Gorevan, a Syria policy adviser at British charity Oxfam, to Reuters.

“The Security Council resolutions have essentially failed in what they set out to do, which was to provide greater protection and assistance to the people inside Syria.”

Oxfam was joined by 20 other aid groups in publishing a deeply critical report detailing how the Security Council failed Syria. The groups graded the Security Council, giving it failing grades for protection of civilians, political developments and international funding. Humanitarian access fares the best of the areas, earning a “D” grade.

“We were afraid for our children’s lives so we fled to the caves in the mountains,” says Samah, a mother of six, in the report. “It was the safest and the only available place for us to live. Living in the caves was impossible, it was total misery. If it was up to me and if I didn’t have children I would have preferred to have lived under the threat of airstrikes rather than living like that.”

Wrangling between rival nations, especially the United States and its allies versus Russia has produced few meaningful resolutions in the Security Council. The impact of the fighting and the inadequate response has been immense.

The United Nations estimates that life expectancy for Syrians fell by 20 years since the start of the fighting. The majority of people are now living in poverty, a sharp rise for a country that had a vibrant middle class only five years ago. And it all comes at a cost of $200 billion to the economy.

“Every day brings more death, displacement and destruction, raising the fearsome prospect of the total collapse of this country and even more serious consequences in the region,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon last week. “We have an obligation to the Syrian people to help ensure that serious crimes committed over the past four years do not go unpunished.”

Credit: ODI

Credit: ODI

With more than half of children not attending school, the cumulative toll of the civil war will take years to recover. The Syrian government is to blame for nearly all of the recorded killings of medical workers and nearly 90 percent of attacks on hospitals, says Physicians for Human Rights. The group also pinned part of the blame on the inability of the U.N. Security Council to help end the fighting.

The lack of international funding to respond to the crisis makes matters worse. The humanitarian appeal for 2014 was only 57 percent funded, that was down from 71 percent of funds made available for the 2013 appeal. Aid groups are pushing for more funding and political leaders to bring an end to the fighting immediately.

“The people of Syria have suffered unimaginably over the last four years. The continued obstruction of humanitarian aid greatly compounds their misery,” said Dr Joanne Liu, international president, Doctors Without Borders. “The people of Syria are being denied the most fundamental assistance and the world cannot continue to look away.  We can and must do more for them.”


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]