Op-Ed

A small, local step to ease international suffering from war, drought

A Syrian refugee cooks food for her family outside her tent at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Saadnayel, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Human Rights Watch, a leading international human rights group, said in a report released Tuesday, that more than half of the nearly 500,000 school-age Syrian children registered in Lebanon do not go to school and receive no formal education. Since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to Lebanon, which is now home to some 1.1 million registered refugees.
A Syrian refugee cooks food for her family outside her tent at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Saadnayel, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Human Rights Watch, a leading international human rights group, said in a report released Tuesday, that more than half of the nearly 500,000 school-age Syrian children registered in Lebanon do not go to school and receive no formal education. Since Syria's conflict began in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to Lebanon, which is now home to some 1.1 million registered refugees. Associated Press

I had the fortune to visit Syria in the 1990s and again in 2008. The very old country was full of the kindest people, there were antiquities everywhere one looked, and some of the wildest drivers! Today, Syria is in ruins. What happened? What is not mentioned is the drought that started in 2006 that has led to this devastating war. It has been called the worst in the past 900 years and absolutely worst these last 500 years.

According to Elaisha Stokes, an award-winning journalist and filmmaker, the U.N. reported the “drought caused 75 percent of Syria’s farms to fail and 85 percent of livestock to die between 2006 and 2011. The collapse in crop yields forced as many as 1.5 million Syrians to migrate to urban centers, like Homs and Damascus.”

The Whatcom Peace and Justice Center and Voices for Peace in the Middle East are sponsoring a donation drive this summer to support refugees stranded in Europe.

“The drought had displaced Syrians long before the conflict began,” said Francesco Femia, president of the Center for Climate Security. “And what is frightening is that analysts who study the region completely missed it. More hungry and homeless families in Syria’s big cities created stress. There are only so many resources to go around.”

Abeer Etefa, a communications officer with the United Nations World Food Program, said the agency was concerned about the country prior to the outbreak of war.

“The situation was already bad,” he said. “We had an operation in 2010 for farmers that were suffering from the drought.”

It is now the beginning of the fifth year of the Syrian war. The international community continues to supply weapons to various groups so that this proxy war continues. Who suffers? The people who called Syria home, and the refugees from conflicts in Palestine/Israel and Iraq.

As a citizen of the U.S., my voice and support for a fair and just settlement of this conflict seems very limited. The ideologues in positions of power continue to talk in safe conference rooms, meanwhile supplying weapons to various factions. The conflict rages, and the people continue to suffer, starve and die. Climate change is not mentioned or considered. So what can we do?

It may not be much, but we can help. The Whatcom Peace and Justice Center and the Voices for Middle East Peace have combined our efforts to support the Salaam Cultural Museum, which has been running medical missions to refugee areas in Europe since 2012.

Understanding the need

To understand the extent of this catastrophe, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the International Organization of Migration give statistic that give light to the disastrous state of affairs:

▪  More than 50 percent of the Syrian population is displaced.

▪  One in every two of those crossing the Mediterranean this year were Syrians escaping the conflict in their country.

▪  More than the 4.5 million refugees from Syria are in just five Middle Eastern countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

▪  In total only 3.6 percent of the total population of Syrian refugees have been resettled in those countries.

▪  There has been no offer of resettlement from the wealthy gulf states of Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Bahrain.

▪  7.5 million Syrian children have been displaced.

▪  All refugee camps bordering Syria are overwhelmed and overflowing with refugees.

The Whatcom Peace and Justice Center and the Voices for Middle East Peace are working with the Salaam Cultural Museum and our local Value Village to collect items that will be weighed and turned to cash to go to the the Salaam Cultural Museum. It will then purchase food and baby items. Financial contributions by check can be made to Salaam Cultural Museum, 3806 Whitman Ave. N. Seattle, WA, 98103, with “refugees” designated.

Barbara Rofkar is an instructor at Western and a trustee at Whatcom Community College. She wrote this for the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center.

Donations sought

The Whatcom Peace and Justice Center and Voices for Peace in the Middle East are sponsoring a donation drive to support refugees stranded in Europe.

Donations of soft goods and certain hard goods will be collected between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Aug. 20 in the parking lot behind Saint James Church at 910 14th St. A truckload will then be taken to Value Village, which will pay per pound for all items collected. The money will be used by the Salaam Cultural Museum for humanitarian and medical aid for people affected by conflict and natural disaster in the Middle East.

Suggested for donation are clean and dry clothing, shoes, hats, scarves, undergarments, jewelry, accessories, bags, wallets, bedding, towels, curtains, tablecloths and other cloth materials and toys, small household goods and appliances, books, CDs and DVDs.

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