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March 15, 2021

After 10 years, Syria’s war may be over but poverty ‘bomb’ has exploded

Giampaolo Silvestri, secretary general of AVSI Foundation, and Flavia Chevallard, AVSI’s representative for Syria, explain to CRUX how we help Syrians struggling with “an enormous economic crisis”

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By Elise Ann Ellen, originally published by CRUX

ROME – Ten years after Syria’s bloody civil war began, most of the fighting is now over. Yet the country is now facing a massive economic, social, and humanitarian crisis in which rampant poverty is the next major battle it faces.

Referring to the March 15 anniversary of the start of the Syrian civil war, Pope Francis in his Sunday Angelus address said the decade-long conflict “has caused one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of our time.”

In the past 10 years, the war has caused “an unknown number of dead and wounded, millions of refugees, thousands of disappeared, destruction, violence of every kind and immense suffering for the entire population, especially the most vulnerable, such as children, women and the elderly,” he said.

Francis urged all parties involved in the war “to show signs of goodwill, so that a glimpse of hope can open up for the exhausted population,” and asked for “a decided and renewed commitment, constructive and supportive,” on the part of the international community, “so that, having laid down their arms, we can mend the social fabric and begin reconstruction and economic recovery.”

The pope then led pilgrims in praying a Hail Mary for suffering to end and hope to be revived in “beloved and martyred Syria.”

 

Speaking to Crux about the state of the crisis 10 years into the conflict, Giampaolo Silvestri, secretary general of the AVSI Foundation, which carries out development and humanitarian projects in Syria, said that “fighting in Syria for the most part is over, but the bomb of poverty has exploded.”

With roughly 80 percent of the population living under the poverty line, “it’s an enormous problem,” he said, adding that in his view, small reconstruction projects must begin in rural areas, supporting schools, hospitals, and other essential services.

Similarly, Flavia Chevallard, AVSI’s representative for Syria, said the decade-long war has caused “an enormous economic crisis,” as well as Syria’s isolation from the international community.

Things were already difficult when Lebanon’s financial crisis began, and the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the situation, she said, adding that the cumulative impact has been “catastrophic.”

“There’s been a fast devaluation of the local currency: the Syrian pound lost three quarters of its value during 2020, and prices of basic items increased 200 percent. This means that people are not able anymore to get enough food, many people tell me that they cannot even afford bread anymore,” she said.

With the bulk of the population living in poverty, “the needs are incommensurable in the whole country,” Chevallard said, noting that in areas where AVSI is active, such as Aleppo, Damascus, and portions of the country’s northeast and northwest, “the situation is very critical.”

“There is another perception that I feel people have in the Western world, and it’s that in the Middle East people is used to war and violence. This is not true,” she said, adding, “Very often people here ask me if I knew Syria before the war, and they talk about their life before.”

“It’s touching to see how people are still shocked by how the war arrived and destroyed their lives, as anybody in Europe would be,” she said, noting that at the moment, “hope is unfortunately rare after ten years of war and no signs of an improvement.”

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