Foreign Policy Blogs

The Humanitarian Toll of the Syrian Crisis

WFP Operations in Homs

Boy sits outside ruined building in Homs, Syria. Photo Credit: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Syria long ago became a source of a steady trickle of bad news but recent reports coming from several UN agencies working in Syria highlight just how dire the humanitarian situation there has become.

First up is a new report from the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that found as many as 4 million Syrians currently do not have the means to buy or produce enough food to sustain themselves. Part of this is due to the complete disruption of the agricultural industry within the country where many farmers have fled the violence and fuel for farming equipment is in short supply. However the fighting also disrupted civilian supply routes meaning that food often can’t make it to its final destination. As a result, the burden of feeding millions of Syrians falls to the WFP, FAO and partner organizations. As of June, these efforts were able to reach 2.5 million Syrians but that is little more than half of those who need help within an increasingly challenging environment.

Beyond the need for food, the UN estimates that 6.8 million people are in need of humanitarian support, a number that represents nearly a third of the country’s pre-war population. With nearly 4.5 million people displaced within Syria and the near complete collapse of the economy, the remaining population is in need of everything from medical care and trauma counseling to housing and clean water.

Next there is the alarming situation appearing outside of Syria’s borders with a growing refugee crisis. UN High Commissioner of Refugees Antonio Guterres reported to the Security Council earlier this week that 2013 has seen an average of 6,000 Syrians a day fleeing the conflict, the largest refugee flow since the Rwanda genocide nearly 20 years ago.

As a result, there are now 1.8 million registered refugees in neighboring countries although that number does not count those outside the camps who have never formally registered for refugee status. Indeed, at the same Security Council meeting that Guterres testified before, Lebanon’s Ambassador to the UN Nawaf Salem reported that his country was already hosting an estimated 1.2 million refugees, roughly double the number of registered refugees recorded by UNHCR. For a country of just 4 million, the influx of so many refugees brings with it a growing possibility of instability within Lebanon.

In this regard, Lebanon is not alone. The influx of as many as 800,000 Syrians in neighboring Jordan also threatens stability there, a prospect that would be disastrous not just for Syrians but for the region as a whole. Likewise, further north the estimated 500,000 Syrians in Turkey is placing tremendous strain on that country’s political, social and economic systems. And in Iraq, a country facing its own upward trend of internal violence, officials are struggling to cope with the refugee numbers they already have and are unprepared for the growing tide coming out of Syria. The result is that countries are increasingly hesitant to take on more refugees at the same time UNHCR is urging states to keep their borders – and wallets – open for those who have nowhere else to go.

Finally there is the ultimate consequence of conflict: human lives. In June, the UN estimated that 93,000 people have died in the Syrian war since it started in March 2011. Earlier this week UN officials reported that an estimated 5,000 people were dying every month, meaning that the conflict is right around the 100,000 casualty milestone. A human rights observer group working on the Syrian conflict already pegged the death toll at over 100,000 late last month but expect an official UN announcement matching this prediction soon.

Yet despite the increasingly dire humanitarian situation, the international community still remains wary to intervene with stronger action in the conflict. For now, organizations working to address the crisis remain largely on their own with limited funds and growing political fatigue while Syrians remain waiting to see what happens next, both in the conflict and in their disrupted lives.

  • Pamela Beaton

    I really do feel we must do everything we can to end any crisis. Not just Sierra however anything to do with the middle East and region. Because we are @ a threshold in the outside world which is not there and I truly believe we are, and should be looking in. We as a world community as I have heard it called lately, need to seriously use every feeling, thought, with all EMPATHY! I @ first was for a military strike. I did change my mind, because of the people whom do not want the peril of it. I would not want this here in America. Why do we always have to do this. It is not wanted by the people of Sierra. I always watch the news and no matter who votes or says yes for what it is not going to help what already is!

  • Pamela Beaton

    Let the people of Sierra make the life they wish and we can see how they want the country they live in and or leave and let the president figure out how he will have a country with no people. The people of Sierra need to make this choice and we cannot make it for them. They need to stay and put up with more of the same or leave the country not to return and barren. And leave him with no power with no people. If they do not understand this by now we as the world cannot help them. However we need to be helping the refugees in all countries whom flee from this regime and not take any military action. Anyone whom can look @ this regime and take part in what they have created in the falsehood of anyone fleeing the country and no people existing anymore and left the catastrophic regime and what they were living in everyday, is not thinking with any humanitarian efforts to the refuges. A life in the land of Sierra should truly open the eyes of the Global community. However if not we have all lost our balance, equilibrium, and our way as Human beings. And I am so sorry to be among any of you whom do not see, read, feel, and realize this as a Humanity needs… Please consider this very carefully,, this is so many people that depend on this. Yes all of us:)


Kimberly J. Curtis
Kimberly J. Curtis

Kimberly Curtis has a Master's degree in International Affairs and a Juris Doctor from American University in Washington, DC. She is a co-founder of The Women's Empowerment Institute of Cameroon and has worked for human rights organizations in Rwanda and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @curtiskj

Areas of Focus: Transitional justice; Women's rights; Africa