Ten years ago, a conflict broke out in Syria that continues to this day, sparking one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. The Syrian conflict has been marked by the intentional deprivation and brutalization of the civilian population, with violations of international humanitarian law abounding. The UN officially stopped updating the death toll at the beginning of 2014, but the loss of life has been staggering, and the conflict’s impact has been felt far beyond that. A total of 11.5 million Syrian people have been displaced since – 6.2 million as internally displaced people (IDPs) within Syria, and 5.3 million as refugees registered in other countries. 19.8 million people are classified as in need as a result of the conflict, 5.9 million of whom are children. 4.6 million children in Syria are food insecure, and 2 million are out of school.
The systematic and deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure as a tactic of war has both driven and exacerbated the dire conditions many Syrians find themselves in today.
In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fragility of Syria’s health care system. Since 2017 alone, SAMS has documented 157 attacks on health. In addition, only 64% of hospitals and 52% of Syria’s primary healthcare centers are currently functioning. An estimated 70% of the healthcare workforce has fled the country since 2011 and at least 923 medical professionals were killed between 2011 and 2020. SAMS has worked tirelessly to meet the health needs that have arisen during the conflict, offering a full spectrum of healthcare services in Syria, including emergency care, reproductive health services, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services, dialysis, and cancer treatment In addition to its essential work in Syria, SAMS has also mobilized to meet the needs of vulnerable Syrians and members of the host community in neighboring countries and beyond, organizing medical missions to provide primary and specialized health services, including cardiology and dental services, as well as providing ongoing services with a focus in MHPSS and protection.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, SAMS has provided over 20 million services to people in need, delivering over $207 million in humanitarian aid.
Beyond providing these crucial services in Syria and the surrounding countries, SAMS has also focused on developing the future of Syria’s health system by developing training programs for medical staff, providing scholarships for aspiring health professionals, and continuing to advocate for the Syrian people at every opportunity.
Looking forward, SAMS recognizes an end to the conflict as the most immediate, pressing need. All parties to the conflict must cease hostilities and seek a political solution in order to protect civilian life and prevent further harm from being done. However, the problems Syria faces cannot be solved by an end to the conflict alone. The effects of this conflict will take years to overcome. Humanitarian assistance must be able to continue impartially and unhindered through all modalities, using the most appropriate mechanism for each given project. This is an absolute necessity to ensure that the millions of people in need continue to receive support and assistance, both during the conflict and after its end. Modalities such as cross-border assistance must not be politicized and used by parties to the conflict in an effort to pursue their own political goals. Meeting the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people should always be at the forefront of policymaker’s decision-making. Furthermore, the tragedies and hardships suffered by the Syrian people will not be easily forgotten, especially by those who have endured chemical weapons attacks, besiegements, and other forms of deliberate harm. This conflict has witnessed some of the most heinous violations of international law and norms in history. Besiegement, forced displacement, targeting of health facilities, and using hunger as a weapon have become trademarks of this conflict. Accountability must be chief among the international community’s priorities for Syria, both to restore the Syrian people’s trust in the international system, as well as to uphold international humanitarian law and deny impunity for those who violate it.
The international community should learn from their failure in Syria in order to prevent other countries from suffering the same fate.
In addition to accountability and the provision of people’s basic needs, long-term solutions will grow increasingly important in the coming years. Refugees in neighboring countries will increasingly seek durable solutions. The massive gaps in the education system will need to be addressed. The health system especially, having experienced such a massive level of degradation throughout the conflict, will require serious effort to be able to meet the continuing health needs of the Syrian people. The massive loss of human resources alone is a significant threat to the future of Syria’s health system, considering the massive loss of health workers through death, displacement, or simply being too afraid to practice medicine. Coupled with the severe degradation and disruption of health infrastructure and supply chains, this means that immediate, significant investments in Syria’s health system are vital to ensuring that the health system is prepared to meet future needs.
The tragedy that is the Syrian conflict has changed so much at the global level. Closer to home, however, it has been a turning point for the Syrian American community, as the diaspora has mobilized in order to support their country from abroad. For SAMS, the conflict gave us a new mission of saving lives and alleviating suffering, and we will continue this mission to ensure that no one is left untreated in the face of crisis. Ten years after the start of this conflict, we look back, mourning all that we have lost. We also look forward, with hope for an end to the conflict, and ready to continue to support those who have endured so much for the past 10 years.