A Double Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

Dr. Michael Sharnoff, NESA Center

After nine years of civil war, Syria has become a failing state with over half a million Syrians killed and 13 million displaced. The U.N. estimates restructuring efforts will cost over $300 billion. Moreover, Assad’s government does not exercise control over all of its territory. Pockets of political and gang violence persist. The Syrian economy has been devastated. To further complicate matters, Russia, Iran and Turkey, the three dominant external actors in Syria, support different sides in the conflict and compete for power and political prestige, instead of cooperating to help achieve stability and security for Syrians.

As the novel Coronavirus spreads worldwide, Syria now faces a double humanitarian catastrophe. In response, the Assad regime, as with other dictatorships, has attempted to minimize the number of infected Syrians to appear strong and in control of his country. The regime has also closed borders, restricted freedom of movement, and closed schools and restaurants to curb the spread of the virus.

According to the World Health Organization, 25 Syrians have been infected and two have died as of April 12, 2020. The actual number could be significantly higher. As seen in other countries, the potential for the virus to proliferate is high because it spreads quickly and easily between people.

The Coronavirus spreads through close contact and a more comprehensive plan is necessary to protect the millions of displaced people and refugees living in close quarters and unsanitary living conditions. How, for instance, can Syrians practice proper social distancing and hygiene in displacement camps in Idlib? This issue is a major concern not just for Syria, but for all neighboring countries, and does not discriminate between religion, nationality, sect or tribe.

The Syrian regime, and the Russians, Iranians, and Turks, are ill-equipped to combat this threat alone. International support is needed immediately and a comprehensive plan of action is required to help prevent Syria from sliding yet again into another humanitarian disaster. Hopefully, there is a will to act before it is too late.

The views presented in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Department of Defense, the NESA Center or any of United States government components.