• How Syria is Managing COVID-19 Amid Longlasting Civil War

    How Syria is Managing COVID-19 Amid Longlasting Civil War

    The Civil War 

    In 2000, Syria’s president of three decades, Ḥafiz al-Assad passed away unexpectedly. Hafiz’s son, Bashar, succeeded him only days after his death. Although the constitutional minimum age for presidency was 40, a constitutional amendment was approved by the national legislature to lower it to 34. This was passed hours after Ḥafiz al-Assad’s death, in order to transfer the presidency onto his son. Most Syrians were opposed to the intergenerational transfer of power within the Al-Assad family, as they had no say in the matter. 

    In March of 2011, peaceful pro-democracy protests began spreading throughout Syria, as citizens demanded a halt to Assad’s authoritarian practices. The demonstrations sparked overwhelmingly aggressive responses from government security forces, as they had begun shooting and arresting the nonviolent objectors. Within only a year, the death toll caused by the uprising was over 5,000 Syrians, with at least 300 being children. 

    Global leaders began their involvement in the civil war, positioning themselves as either pro or anti-Assad. Many neighboring countries, such as Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States and the European Union, were heavily against the Assad Regime. They formed the anti-Assad bloc and asked for President Bashar to step down. On the other hand, Russia and Iran supported Assad’s regime, as they were long-standing allies, and even supplied the government with warplanes, and military aid.

    A United Nations Security Council meeting was held in July 2012 in order to discuss humanitarian concerns and end the violent mistreatment of Syrians, during which it was proposed that steps be taken to pressure Assad out of office. Despite their efforts, the adoption of resolutions failed, as the council was unable to reach an agreement on a collective course of action. For instance, the United States and Russia had conflicting opinions on Bashar Al-Assad’s involvement in Syria’s future government. 

    Assad, in 2013, had begun launching aerial attacks all over Syrian cities and towns that had rebelled against him. Although chemical weapons were considered a red-line, Assad launched a gas attack on the city of Ghouta, killing hundreds of citizens. 

    As of March 2021, the ongoing civil war in Syria has reached its 10th year. From its commencement in 2011, the ongoing civil war has become the largest global refugee crisis in the last 50 years. Approximately 6.6 million Syrians have been displaced, with the majority fleeing to neighboring countries. Relative to its population size, Lebanon has hosted the most Syrian refugees. Approximately 13 million Syrians are still in need of humanitarian assistance. 

    The documented death toll in Syria, as of December 2020, is approximately 387,118 people. The toll does not include the 205,300 missing individuals, most of which are presumed dead. It also does not include the 88,000 Syrians who are believed to have been tortured and killed in governmental prisons. Overall, it is estimated that over 680,000 Syrians are either missing or dead. 

    The damage done has even created an environmental crisis, with much of the nation’s soil and waters being polluted and contaminated. Meeting basic needs, such as the procurement of food, has become extremely difficult and has resulted in more than 9.3 million Syrians suffering from food insecurity. The United Nations has estimated the cost of reconstruction to be $250 billion USD.

    A ceasefire was put in place during the start of COVID-19, in March of 2020, however, it has been broken on multiple occasions. Not to mention, the continuous airstrikes from Israel as recent as June 2021 have contributed to the violence. 

    Being Unprepared for Covid-19 

    In March of 2020, when Syria reported its first case of COVID-19, citizens feared that the virus might further devastate their war-torn country. COVID-19 was expected to be a major challenge for Syria, seeing that, since 2010, their economy shrunk by over 60 percent, and their currency had crashed. Prior to the war, an American dollar equaled 50 SYP. In 2021, however, the American dollar is now equated to formally 1,250 SYP, and informally 3,000 SYP. 

    Management of the virus has also been quite disorderly due to over 70 percent of health workers being displaced due to the civil war. Aside from the medical staff shortages, Syria also lacked the technology and measures of control to manage the virus. Testing kits and the protective equipment were extremely scarce, so much so that it was said that severe COVID-19 cases would inevitably end in death, as they were simply unable to aid those that required intensive care. 

    It was certain that the virus would indisputably spread, as Syrian refugee camps for internally displaced persons are exceedingly overcrowded, which has raised grave concerns for their inability to social distance and self-isolate. These camps lack basic necessities, such as safe water, which is crucial in order to protect oneself from COVID-19. 

    Considering that 80 percent of citizens live under the poverty line, earning $1.90 per day, it was also very difficult for Syrians to wear masks, the most necessary protective gear, as one box of masks costs twice a day’s wage. 

    Ultimately, given its situation, Syria was far from prepared and stable enough to handle the virus.

    Managing the Pandemic

    Managing the spread of Covid-19 in Syria was twofold, both a health and political crisis. On July 9th, 2020, four months after COVID-19 reached Syria, the northwest region of the country, which opposed Bashar Al-Assad, had its very first case. This case immediately turned this health crisis into a political issue, seeing that the Syrian government only protected and aided areas that supported Bashar Al-Assad and his regime. 

    International communities decided to not let politics be a factor in the COVID-19 response, refusing to choose between the opposition governments and the official Syrian government. Local civil societies started operating as legitimate alternatives to state bodies, as a direct effect of the international community’s statements on COVID-19. 

    The World Health Organization (WHO), in order to aid Syria in slowing the spread, requested COVID-19 measures to be put in place. While the Syrian government implemented these measures to adhere to the request, the enforcement of these rules lacked immensely. Partial lockdowns, for instance, were put in place, as well as shutting down schools and restaurants, closing borders, and restricting travel within the country. The effectiveness of these COVID-19 measures, however, is unknown. 

    The number of confirmed cases in Syria, which, as of July 5th, 2021, is 25,653, and deaths, 1,887, has raised suspicion for the nation. The mortality rate especially has been questioned, seeing that Syrian hospitals had overflowed with patients in need of care. With a lack of health care workers and the necessary equipment to aid the sick, hospitals had to ultimately turn away patients in need of care. Granted that Syrian hospitals were overwhelmed, as well as only having 5 testing centers for their 15 million citizens, the reported mortality rate seems inconsistent. It was later discovered that the government had refused to provide consistent and transparent information on COVID-19, which led to extensive unreported deaths caused by the virus. 

    Vaccinations and the Future for Syria

    Shipments of vaccines for vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and health care workers, arrived in April of 2021. However, the lack of a coherent government, and its inability to properly address COVID-19, however, has slowed the vaccination process. 

    According to the WHO, as of June 2021, only 20 percent of Syrians in the northwest region have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is caused by the many challenges that the northwest, which opposes the official government, is currently facing. For instance, unclear vaccine shipments, lack of funds, and hesitancy to take the vaccine, are a few factors that are slowing the process. 

    Even with the low percentage of vaccinated citizens, as of February 2021, there are no longer Covid-19 restrictions and all establishments are open at full capacity. Travel is also open within the rural and urban areas within Syria, as well as international travel. 

    The future for Syria seems substandard, as, on May 27th, 2021, President Bashar Al-Assad won his 4th term with 95 percent of the votes. This has raised questions of a fraudulent election by the West, seeing the large groups opposing his regime. 

    Ultimately, as Bashar Al-Assad and his regime continue to govern Syria, citizens remain stuck with not only a never-ending civil war but also the COVID-19 virus, with little hope for a recovering future.

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    Jeanine Tajeddine

    Jeanine Tajeddine

    Jeanine is from Toronto, Ontario and is currently completing her Honours Bachelor Degree of Applied Science in Justice Studies at the University of Guelph-Humber. Her interests include human rights and Middle Eastern politics. She hopes to complete a Master's Degree in journalism, as her main passion is writing.

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    Latest Posts

    The Politics of Global Tax Reform

    After decades of falling corporate tax rates, governments have taken the first step towards ensuring that multinational companies contribute their fair share to public finances.

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