The Elders


"No fuel, no electricity, no food": crisis in Syria

“We don’t have enough kits and help for everyone who needs it."

As the humanitarian crisis deepens in Syria, aid agencies are struggling to reach all the people affected by violence, destruction and shortages of food and medicine.

Syria’s devastating civil war is now two years old. In that time 5 million people – 1 in 4 Syrians – have fled their homes as a result of the conflict. More than 1.5 million, at least half of them children, have fled to neighbouring countries.

Photo: Syrian girls at a refugee settlement near the Syrian border. Credit: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children.

Humanitarian efforts are threatened by a critical lack of funds. There is a US$700 million gap between what aid agencies need to meet refugees’ basic needs, and what they have received – a 70 per cent shortfall.

One humanitarian representative at a refugee camp in Lebanon said: “We don’t have enough kits and help for everyone who needs it. New people are arriving from Syria with nothing every day, and it’s a big problem.”

Photo: Mohammed, a 13-year old refugee from Idlib in Syria, carries a mattress in Burj Barajneh refugee camp, Lebanon. Credit: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam. Read more on Oxfam's response to the crisis.

Even before Syria’s civil war broke out, there were already refugees inside the country who had fled other conflicts in the region. Many of them are unable to cross the border and now face the closure of essential support facilities.

Fatima (pictured here), is a Palestinian refugee who had been living with her family in a refugee camp near Damascus. After her husband, son and daughter were killed and their home was destroyed by rockets and tanks, she is now living in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

Inside Syria the impact of the conflict has been greatest on poorer families, who are now struggling with the lack of medical care and poor conditions in communal shelters. Many are effectively trapped in Syria because they cannot afford the transport to the border.

The destruction of irrigation and other infrastructure has halved the amount of food being grown in Syria, causing serious food shortages. In this photo, residents of Ma’arat Misrin queue for bread next to a large crater from a recent air strike.

Photo: Amnesty International

At the same time as sanitation conditions worsen, diseases spread and medicine becomes more scarce, nearly one third of all Syria’s hospitals have been completely destroyed.

Hiba (pictured) fled Syria with her daughter and severely disabled son.

“Hospitals in Syria are being targeted with shelling. The one I took my son to for physiotherapy sessions is not operating any more… Any time I want to take him out, it’s dangerous for us. We stay at home, we call the doctor, but we can never reach him.”

Read the rest of Hiba's account in Save the Children's recent report 'Childhood under fire: the impact of two years of conflict in Syria'.

Photo: Jonathan Hyams/Save the Children.

Many doctors and medical staff have fled their homes, or seen them destroyed.

The clinic pictured was also the home of a medical technician in Taftanaz. Having worked overnight at a hospital due to the shortage of doctors, he returned the next day to find that his house and clinic had been burned down.

“The savings of my whole working life were in this house,” he said. “Now there is nothing left.”

Photo: Amnesty International

“I want to tell the world about the situation in Syria… There is no fuel, no electricity, no food. This is the situation. There is shelling, explosions, gunfire… violence, death. No one is working, there are no jobs. People are just surviving day to day, living for the sake of living.” – Safa

Read more first-hand accounts from Save the Children's recent report 'Childhood under fire: the impact of two years of conflict in Syria'.

Photo: a family living in their burnt-out home in al-Bashiriya, Syria. Credit: Amnesty International.

Despite the courageous efforts of local organisations, the UN and a handful of international agencies still able to work in Syria, aid is still not reaching everyone in need.

This week The Elders called on Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) to act in concert, urging Syria’s President to grant full humanitarian access to the country.

“Unimpeded humanitarian access to all parts of Syria is a call that no leader, indeed no human being, could in good conscience deny.” – Martti Ahtisaari and Fernando Henrique Cardoso

Photo: Atmah IDP camp, Syria. Credit: Amnesty International

Some names have been changed.

Quick Facts Humanitarian crisis in Syria
  • 5,000 people are being killed each month in Syria
  • 5 million people – one quarter of the Syrian population – have fled their homes
  • More than 1.5 million people have fled to neighbouring countries from Syria
  • 75 per cent of Syrian refugees are women and children
  • 10 per cent of Lebanon’s population are now Syrian refugees
  • A third of all hospitals in Syria have been destroyed
  • At least 4 million people inside Syria are in urgent need of humanitarian aid
  • The UN Refugee Agency has reported a 70 per cent funding shortfall in humanitarian assistance


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The Elders are independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

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