by David Wilson,
ITL Staff Writer
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced today that the death toll in Syria has topped 100,000. The announcement came during a news conference in the UN Headquarters in New York, and was followed by a call for renewed efforts to convene a peace conference in Geneva. Previously these efforts failed to come to fruition due to the differences among international powers, primarily the United States and Russia. However, with international leaders uniting to call for a peace conference, the difficulties now lie with convincing Bashar al-Assad, whose forces hold the military advantage, and the various rebel groups to come to the negotiating table. With in-fighting between rebel forces, and no clear outline for leadership amongst the opposition forces, the likelihood of a diplomatic solution is lessening. And that means a continuance of the conflict and the devastation of the Syrian people.
Aside from the death toll, which most sources imagine to be an underestimate, a further 1.7 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. Many of these have fled to other countries. Jordan for example is currently hosting 500,000 Syrian refugees. The largest camp, Zaatari, is sheltering 100,000 people, a population that would make it the fifth largest city in all of Jordan. The refugees in these camps, many who have already been relocated multiple times, face multiple health concerns as crowded living conditions have led to an increase in cases of infectious diseases. Dehydration and malnutrition are also concerns, as Jordan is struggling to provide services and infrastructure to the overcrowded camps.
It is not only Syrian refugees who are facing an uncertain future. After two years of war, the economy of Syria is on very shaky footing. The Syrian pound, valued at 47 to the US dollar before the outbreak of hostilities, now trades at 330, around 15% of pre-war value. Similarly, unemployment now stands at a rate five times that of two years ago, the public sector has suffered a loss of $15 billion, and the economy as a whole has shrunk by 35%. Within the borders of Syria, four million people are now dependent on food aid. With the situation remaining unchanged, that number could swell to seven million by the end of the year.
The World Food Programme, a UN agency dedicated to fighting hunger, claims that $27 million is required every week to provide relief for Syria. Without this aid people are going hungry. This ‘humanitarian gap’ is being filled by political groups who provide food to communities in an attempt to garner support in the power vacuum of Syria.
The conflict has dragged on now for two years, with the international community vacillating over an appropriate response. Military operations have been outlined by the US, but have been warned against by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey. Similarly, the US and EU have both committed to shipping armaments to the rebel forces, but this intervention has been delayed, and with the conflict amongst rebel groups is proving difficult to implement.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and the two countries both stated their commitment to a peace conference. This communication between two nations that have so far taken opposite sides in the conflict is an encouraging sign for an eventual commencement of peace talks. Face to face dialogue is always the best strategy, and by bringing international pressure to bear on both sides of the conflict, a solution may yet be found.