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Humanitarian disaster looms large in Syria amidst hardening American stand!

Paper No. 5360                                        Dated 14-Jan-2013

Guest Column:  Dr. Sudhanshu Trpathi

With the US rejecting  the reform proposals advanced by the Syrian President Basher al-Assad towards ending the on-going bitter fighting between the Government forces and the rebels, and the continuing macabre scenario amidst rising international criticism of his (President) oppressive misrule in Syria for the last two years, the countrymen at large find themselves, unfortunately, condemned to pass through an unyielding humanitarian disaster of an unimaginable magnitude as there looks no end in sight of the continuous killing of innocents people including women, children and elderly people by the Syrian army whose many senior officers have already deserted to join the rebels fighting against the retrograde and repressive regime.  As the crisis now covers a significantly large segment of population, an estimated four million people or around 20 per cent of the population, who have lost their food and shelters to take refuge into temporary dwellings provided by the neighbouring countries and almost three million people remain displaced within the country itself, the overall situation in Syria is highly deplorable thereby preventing the humanity to sustain and survive.

Obviously, such a prevailing grim scenario in Syria genuinely raises the question of the regime change because the President Assad has no care and concern to honour the popular wishes and aspirations for pending political and economic reforms in favour of democracy with greater freedom which he (the President) had himself promised two years ago during the tumultuous period of the over sweeping wave of Arab Spring passing through the entire middle-east region.

As a result, many of such undemocratic and unaccountable governments- basically kingdoms established since many decades- in the region like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya etc. had to succumb to the popular pressures demanding  freedom and democratic political institutions. But, President Assad continued with his anti-popular and oppressive policies by resorting to all kinds of repression and even massacre of his opponents. Although he had to concede before the so-arisen popular will for reforms last year and he came with a set of democratic reform proposals, but soon he backtracked and, instead, resorted to yet more fierce acts of horrible bombings not only on the rebels but even on innocent populace irrespective of their age, sex or ability. This is continuing unabated since the popular uprisings began as a latest video published by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had claimed about government fierce shelling in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa, killing about 20 people including at least eight children and also displaying rows of the blood-stained bodies laid out on blankets.

The sound of crying relatives could be heard in the background. It was unclear when the lethal attack in the village of Al Qahtania happened and, that too, with what purpose. Earlier, the Observatory had put the toll at around 45000, but said that the real number was likely to be much higher. Similarly, the United Nations report- released on Wednesday- has raised the death toll to around 60000 or more.

In fact, the prevailing conditions have grown increasingly desperate as the Syrian winter sets in, and many families are living in tents on cold dwellings without adequate clothing. It has severely hampered the on-going relief operations as the United Nations reported about reducing food-ratios being offered to 1.5 milllion Syrians due to ever rising extremely high demands against dwindling resources. As the UN relief official John Ging, who is the director of operations at the UN’s office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, aptly commented: "People are losing hope because they just see more violence on the horizon, they just see deterioration… It's becoming more and more difficult just to do the very basic things to help people to survive."

The same holds the UN news service IRIN: "As the Syrian conflict drags on, shelters are filling up, support systems are breaking down, savings are running out and violence is engulfing an increasing number of communities…" Also, the crisis of Syria's health-care system, which previously was one of the most effective in the region, is especially acute. According to the World Health Organization, the fighting has partly or completely destroyed half of the country's 88 public hospitals and 186 of its 1,919 local health care centers. Particularly devastating has been the attack on Syria's pharmaceutical industry, which previously met 90 percent of the country's need for drugs. The industry is now down to barely he Western-backed rebels for attack and looting. "Other factories are struggling to import raw materials due to sanctions imposed on Syria by Western countries," IRIN reports.

Similarly, a prominent English news daily Guardian on the previous Thursday, carried a report describing, “the extent of the looting, which it said ‘has become a way of life’ for the so-called rebels” Basic medicines have become unavailable, and the price for drugs that are available has risen so steeply as to place them out of the reach of most of the population. The result is that people are dying from chronic conditions that could otherwise be treated.

The WHO's representative in Syria, Elizabeth Hoff, also reported that insulin is no longer available in many areas and that insulin pens that public health centers previously provided to some 40,000 diabetic children have run out, forcing them to resort to more painful and difficult methods. Meanwhile, as a result of the fighting, access to medical care has been sharply curtailed. "Many doctors have left the country," a recent WHO report stated, noting that "over 50 percent of the medical doctors have left Homs." "In Damascus, Aleppo and Homs at least 70 percent of the health providers live in rural areas and therefore frequently cannot access their work place due to irregular public transportation, blocked and unsafe roads with an increasing number of military check points, snipers and the unpredictable occurrence of street fights," the report added.

Obviously, the prevailing civil war scenario in Syria- where heaps of dead bodies lie decomposed and ever rising human number seriously injured and even maimed with their heart-rendering and awful cry remain unattended due to lack of medical facilities and still hundreds of thousands remain hungry- uncared and without proper shelter in the on-going chilly winter, poses ominous portents not only within country but also in the entire middle east because it severely endangers not only the peace, harmony and security of the country but also that of the whole region. Indeed, even the United Nations is not being able to cope with this such a large scale and grave humanitarian crisis as obtained in Syria and, unfortunately, its ambitious fund raising drive for relief , with a big target of $1.5 billion has raised only less than half of the same, so far. With such an extreme resource crisis for the basic human requirements of food packets, potable water, warm cloths, medicines and proper shelter etc. for the on-going surge of Syrian refugees at this crucial juncture, the country as well as its hapless natives are moving towards an unknown destiny, most likely a humanitarian disaster.

As a way out to the present Syrian imbroglio, the United Nations must come forward immediately, with fresh resolve, to stop the continuing violence in the country and ensure perfect peace forthwith by imposing ceasefire between the regime’s forces and the rebels with help of the UN Peace Keeping Forces which must ensure and monitor peace and also restrain intervention by the outside powers into its internal affairs. Also, the civil administration should be taken over, for some time, by the UN sponsored mechanism to ensure availability of the daily requirements. As the Syrian population is quite opposed to President Assad and they want him to go, there must be evolved a suitable mechanism for greater people’s participation on wider level into the political-administrative setup in the country, or if the Syrians so desire, the President must be prevailed upon by arriving at a global consensus- in which India must take a lead as a prominent peace-loving country and also being the founder member of the Non-aligned Movement- to honour his own promises for democratic reforms. But, with the hardening of the US stand, the likely scenario may be one of US led NATO attack on President Assad’s forces, thereby, causing further turmoil to the Syrians and instability and insecurity not only in the country but also in the entire middle east region.

(Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi is an Associate Professor (Political Science) in the M. D. P. G. College, PRATAPGARH (UP).  He can be contacted at