Since 2011 over 400,000 Syrians have been killed and millions more have fled the country as a result of the Syrian civil war. Syria is now facing COVID-19 just as the rest of the world is, however, the civil war has amplified the effects of COVID to create a crisis that has no parallel. As of the beginning of 2020 the average Syrian income per week is under the equivalent of 300 USD, and when combined with the effects of COVID many Syrians are not working and have little money saved. Now 11 million Syrians are food insecure and face an imminent threat of starvation which could cause many to flee the country and could lead to a second wave of the refugee crisis seen in Europe in 2015. In an interview with the BBC, David Beasley described the current Syrian crisis as, “the worst of all storms coming together.”
This should not come as a surprise, in fact Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, warned of this exact situation. Earlier this year when COVID reached international pandemic levels Grandi spoke of how the virus could be devastating to countries with already poor economies. In fact, the Syrian economy is declining so badly that towns in opposition-controlled regions such as northern Syria have resorted to using the Turkish Lira instead of the Syrian pound. In interviews for TRT World local Syrians have attested to the increase in economic security since switching to the Lira with one man saying, “when something costs one lira one day, it will cost one lira the next day.” While some of the Syrian regions have been able to make the best of their situation, the vast majority of people struggle with severe food insecurity that is exacerbated by no longer having their meagre income.
Having recognized this crisis the United Nations World Food Programme announced that that the crisis may escalate to international levels should there be a mass exodus out of Syria. Understanding the immediacy of the situation, the United Nations spoke on Tuesday, June 30th to discuss plans on how to prevent the mass starvation and exodus. According to the BBC, the plans that were laid out call for 3.8 billion USD in support for purely inside of Syria as well as another 6.04 billion USD for neighbouring countries that may see an uptick in refugees. The status of the civil war makes this a particularly unique issue to tackle as there are regions under government control which the United Nations can easily access and provide food, but there are also regions under opposition control that pose more safety risks to humanitarian workers. The United Nations cited these regions as particularly high priority areas that superpower nations must penetrate to provide the aid needed.
With memories of the 2015 refugee crisis the European Union will likely be on the front lines providing the necessary monetary support and humanitarian efforts. In the event that COVID does not allow Syrians to return to any sense of normalcy and the food insecurity persists the European Union may pivot to taking more proactive measures and begin accepting refugees just like in 2015.
Almost directly after the appeals, 30% of the 3.8 billion has been funded, and of the 6.04 billion for the neighbouring states 19% has already been funded. While several billion dollars is nothing to scoff at, the immediacy of this crisis is of the utmost importance and waiting even a week could mean thousands starve. These two appeals must be funded to the fullest extent before it is too late and millions have left or died, both of which are entirely preventable if the international community comes together.