In the beginning…
In January 2011, Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad was asked in an interview with The Wall Street Journal if he expected the wave of protest then sweeping through the Arab world—which had already unseated authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt —to reach Syria. Assad acknowledged that there had been economic hardships for many Syrians and that progress toward political reform had been slow and halting, but he was confident that Syria would be spared.
The onset of anti-regime protests, coming just a few weeks after the interview, made it clear that Assad’s situation had been much more precarious than he was willing to admit. In reality, a variety of long-standing political and economic problems were pushing the country toward instability.
The environmental crisis also played a role in Syria’s uprising. Between 2006 and 2010, Syria experienced the worst drought in the country’s modern history. Hundreds of thousands of farming families were reduced to poverty, causing a mass migration of rural people to urban shantytowns.
It was in the impoverished drought-stricken rural province of Dara in southern Syria, that the first major protests occurred in March 2011.
How many have been killed?
According to the U.N., 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than half of the country’s 20 million, pre-war population has been displaced. About 5.5 million Syrians have fled abroad — 95% of them in just five countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt), according to humanitarian groups. Lebanon hosts the most Syrian refugees per-capta.
How has the war impacted both Syria and Lebanon countries?
About a third of Syria’s housing and just over half of its educational and medical facilities have been destroyed, according to a 2017 World Bank report. Of Syria’s estimated 10 million children, 8.6 million are in dire need of assistance, up from about a half-million after the first year of war. Nearly 6 million children are displaced or living as refugees, and about 2.5 million are out of school.
Lebanon continues to shoulder a disproportionate burden of Syrian refugees by hosting over 1.5 million refugees (almost one million registered with UNHCR, including about 554,000 children), add to this a pre-existing population of about 300,000 Palestinian refugees and you have close to two million refugees in Lebanon.
The conflict in Syria has significantly impacted Lebanon’s social and economic growth, caused deepening poverty and humanitarian needs, and exacerbated pre-existing development constraints in the country. Children of vulnerable host communities and Syrian refugees are growing up at risk, deprived, and with acute needs for basic services particularly health, education and protection. The situation remains precarious as long standing inequalities are deepening and tensions at local.
However disruptions in life are not always negative, as we will see over the next 31 days.