ST. LOUIS, Missouri — The Syrian Civil War is one of the greatest humanitarian crises in recent years. Since 2011, the government and rebel forces have been fighting in both major cities and the countryside which has torn the country apart. As a result, more than 12 million people have been displaced and 15.5 million Syrians need humanitarian aid.
Thankfully, USAID has been at work in Syria since the beginning. USAID’s work on the ground is instrumental in providing essential aid to Syrians, including those devastated by the February earthquake.
The Civil War
In 2011, massive demonstrations across the country called for the removal of the president and dictator Bashar al-Assad. Protesters hoped to replace Assad, whose regime involved numerous human rights violations, with a more democratic government.
But, Assad used violence to crack down on the protests and as a result, numerous rebel groups were formed and the conflict grew into a full-blown civil war. Then in 2013, the terrorist group Islamic State quickly took control of much of the country, imposing a tyrannical Islamist rule on conquered territories, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
In response, Syrian forces and an international coalition joined together to defeat Islamic State and by the end of 2017, it had lost most of its territory. Since then, much of the fighting has died down but Assad’s regime continues to battle with rebels in several pockets around the country.
However, simply ending the war itself won’t repair the damage it’s brought to Syria. More than 400,000 people have been killed since the start of the war with 5.6 million fleeing the country as refugees and 6 million internally displaced, according to CFR. That’s in addition to the millions more within Syria now living in dire poverty.
Help From USAID
Starting in 2011, not long after the war began, USAID has done a lot to help Syrians. Thus far, the U.S. has contributed more than $14.1 billion in humanitarian assistance and more than $1.3 billion in stabilization assistance.
Some of the essential services USAID helps with include food assistance (which reaches 6.6 million Syrians every month), water, and sanitation access. In addition, it assists with medical training and access to emergency health services with 5 million people utilizing these programs in 2021.
It has also helped rebuild some of Syria’s critical infrastructure, connecting nearly 1 million people back to the power grid. Plus, USAID assists with updating the country’s existing infrastructure and has provided green technology such as solar pumps and drip irrigation to more than 2,000 farmers.
But beyond the basic necessities, USAID’s work in Syria also helps bring long-term stability to the country. The USAID achieves this through its effort to combat extremism by strengthening local governments and communities with humanitarian values. In one example, USAID provided critical human rights training to local officials in the Deir ez-Zour region.
And when the COVID-19 virus struck in 2020, USAID once again sprang into action. It rehabilitated multiple hospitals and clinics in Syria to be ready for the treatment of COVID-19 sufferers. In 2020, its workers transformed a warehouse into an oxygen bottling plant so local hospitals could receive a steady and constant supply of oxygen for their patients.
After the Earthquake
On February 6, 2023, tragedy struck once again when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated northern Syria and southeastern Turkey. The earthquake and its aftereffects led to the deaths of more than 55,000 people and injured nearly 130,000. The destruction of homes and infrastructure also caused the displacement of millions within the region.
Once again, USAID stepped up to help with work in Syria. The U.S. government immediately announced $85 million in aid soon after the earthquake struck and announced an additional $100 million two weeks after. With this aid funding, USAID focused on the rapid delivery of essential relief including food, water, shelter, health care services and also winter supplies to help people combat the cold.
USAID administrator Samantha Power also encouraged U.S. citizens to help with the relief by sending money to reputable organizations.
And while the people of Syria still continue to grapple with the effects of both its ongoing civil war and the earthquake, one thing they can continue to count on is the help of USAID and its team of dedicated partners.
– Jonathon Crecelius