Institute of International Peace Leaders

Syrian War: A History and Overview on Humanitarian Crisis

By Jannat Irfan and Dr. Austin Mardon

Entire cities were levelled, hospitals were targeted, historic monuments were demolished, and 13 million people were forced to flee their homes. The 11-year-long Syrian civil war, which has ravaged the nation, triggered a worldwide humanitarian catastrophe, and drew in powers as diverse as the United States and Russia, looks to be drawing to a close. President Bashar al-Assad appears to have emerged militarily triumphant from the conflict, which began in 2011 after his regime forcefully suppressed civilian uprisings. He has the support of Iran and Russia. The ensuing armed insurrection quickly transmogrified into a regional and international battle, with extremist Islamist organizations seizing control of massive swaths of the country at the peak of the war, only then to lose this in the face of substantial amphibious assaults by pro-government troops and an U.s.-based alliance of Western militaries. They had to stop counting the dead at one point because the combat turmoil made it impossible to do so. However, the conflict continues, and people continue to perish.

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 epidemic and the attack on Ukraine, the blazing conflict in Syria may not be front-page news, but Syrians continue to suffer as much as ever a decade after the war began, and finding a solution is more important than ever, especially following the attack on Ukraine. In 2020, the return of high-intensity combat in Idlib triggered yet another humanitarian disaster, driving waves of refugees toward the Turkish border and adding to the war’s already massive humanitarian cost. The death toll is projected to be about 400,000 people, but that’s just an estimation and it might be way higher. More than half of the country’s population was displaced at various stages throughout the conflict. According to the UN Refugee Agency, 5.6 million people have fled Syria, with an estimated 13.1 million people in need of aid. This figure is expected to climb if the conflict does not cease, and the humanitarian catastrophe will continue if Syria does not find the resources to begin rebuilding especially because right now, Syrians are facing their greatest economic crisis since the conflict began, and are driven by a range of factors which include the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic collapse in neighboring Lebanon. This has caused record levels of food insecurity and fast-rising basic commodities costs. Simultaneously, 5 million Syrians are already affected by the water shortage because there isn’t enough water to keep the lights on in the region, putting health institutions, such as hospitals at risk. This absence of safe drinking water has increased the danger of sickness and the spread of COVID-19. Moreover, chronic water shortages for agriculture would drive Syrians to abandon their farmlands and cattle, ruining their livelihoods and self-sufficiency while aggravating the famine crisis.

Although violence has diminished since the conflict’s peak, residents and infrastructure in frontline areas continue to be at risk. A huge military assault on territories not under government control is always a possibility. Even if the conflict ends, Syria would take years to recover, and Bashar Al-Assad will be faced with the task of reconstructing the nation, including places where he is suspected of using chemical weapons against his civilians. Furthermore, they will require a significant amount of money and resources to recover from the ongoing humanitarian disaster and the collapse of their economy.


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About Writers:

Jannat Irfan is an article writer at the Antarctic Institute of Canada and is student at University of Toronto pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Biology 

Austin Mardon, PhD, CM, FRSC, is an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta.