As long-awaited Syria peace talks begin this week, World Vision's Tanya Penny will be watching closely. She has been living alongside Syrian refugees in Jordan for the past two months, telling their stories with words and photographs. Here, Tanya describes the heartbreak that even the camera can't capture.
UNICEF, Save the Children and World Vision are urging the global community to commit US$1 billion to provide the education, protection, and support Syrian children need to fulfill their potential, and to develop the skills their societies need to create a more sustainable future. This investment could well save a generation.
Our organization works mainly in conflict-affected and unstable settings. Of these, we have chosen three to watch in 2014. In each country, governments are unable or unwilling to care for their populations, the ability of aid actors to respond has been curtailed, and populations are left to fend for themselves.
Imagine four-million people uprooted by war and struggling to survive. I came away in awe of the perseverance, dignity and fortitude of the Syrian people. They were also wondering why the international community for the most part seems to have abandoned them in their hour of need. It was a fairly straightforward question, the answer to which I am still struggling to find.
Pessimism is a hallmark of the post-crisis period, and it was with us for so long, we almost didn't notice. Confidence -- its polar opposite -- is one of those necessities that we take for granted. That is, until they are taken away. Without confidence, at best we cower in the shadows, coming out to carry on basic activities, and scurrying back for shelter. At worst, it causes the collapse of financial systems and the distribution of goods and services -- in a word, chaos. But this year, we regained something: hope.
Adel was in Homs during the heavy shelling which obliterated the Syrian city's Baba Amr district. He had been studying English at the university and had stayed on to do his military service. Running out of options and funds, he then made his way to the border and crossed into Iraq, becoming a refugee. For the past eight months, Adel has been working tirelessly as an interpreter.
It's likely one-year-old Rana was malnourished the entire year she'd been alive, since aid hadn't reached the village in her lifetime. Doctors could do nothing by the time she was admitted to the field hospital just north of the Syrian capital of Damascus. She died within 24 hours of admittance. Rana was born, and died, during the civil war that is slowly attacking Syria's children. The people left in her ghost town of Moadamia are bargaining chips for the rebel Free Syrian Army, which refuses to relinquish control of the area long enough for humanitarian groups to distribute aid. For these children of war every aspect of their life has been diminished, or stolen.
I was given the opportunity to visit the Olive Tree Refugee Camp in Atmeh Syria. All the little girls approached me with their unique knitted creations. When I had to say my goodbyes, one woman voiced her concerns about the lack of yarn to work with. That same night, I wrote out the plan for Tight-Knit Syria, a project to help supply yarn, as well as establish an online store to sell knitted products from the Olive Tree Camp.
It is easy to look at the facts, and other distressing realities, that surround the International Criminal Court and conclude that the 11-year old court is failing. And it might be. It has only handed out one verdict in its entire history, and it was a guilty vote. Many of its accused are still at large. But it serves a vital purpose in this day and age.
Assad has bought himself years of effective non-interference in Syria's domestic affairs, including his ongoing quest to crush his opponents. But this does not presuppose his long-term victory -- the international community's brief romance with Moammar Gaddafi ended swiftly when the Benghazi rebels looked like a sure bet to overthrow his regime.
I have witnessed some of the best minds at Harvard and former top U.S. officials offer conflicting opinions on how to make the best of a very bad situation. But few have talked about how President Obama and Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron are shackled by the follies of George W. Bush and Tony Blair in Iraq that cost needlessly so much blood and treasure.
We can now admit the truth: the Syrian refugees are on their own. So let's stop pretending. The two million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, and some four million remain internally displaced. The numbers are simply staggering -- the largest since the Rwandan crisis of the early 1990s. We shouldn't be surprised. Our belief in politics is at an all-time low, as is voter turnout in many countries. We seem frozen in time when it comes to troubling developments such as climate change or the rapid widening gap between the rich and the poor. Democracy seems incapable at the moment of meeting its most serious challenges.
This week saw Vladimir Putin become a polished New York Times op-ed writer and U.S. President Barack Obama lose what little credibility he had left as a leader on the Syria question. The outcome of all this is not bad in the short term: Those much hyped U.S. military strikes (which the President insisted were kinda crucial but kinda not) are now on the back burner as we wait to see what can be made of the framework reached Saturday by Russia and the U.S. for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons. But this is not a workable long-term solution. Dismantling Assad's entire chemical weapons arsenal will be next to impossible.
People worldwide can be forgiven for their sense of bewilderment at the constant back and forth between military and diplomatic solutions to the crisis in Syria. We've now been at this long enough for commentators to reverse their positions depending on the most recent developments. But there is one group -- a huge one -- for whom none of this really matters: refugees.
Conservatives are telling a skeptical public that Canada won't be significantly involved in any military action. Yet, ten days ago the head of the Canadian military met generals from some of the main countries backing Syria's rebels to discuss the prospects of building an international coalition force. In another sign of Canada's deepening involvement in the Syrian conflict the National Post and Ottawa Sun recently reported that Canada has funnelled $5.3-million to the Syrian rebels' propaganda efforts since April of last year.
If we subscribe to that old Washington truism that all it takes to be a "foreign policy expert" in America is to "enjoy talking about foreign policy," it's striking how little consensus within that class there seems to be on the matter of reigning in the murderous killocracy of President Bashar al-Assad.
The G20 summit this week, and the growing Syrian catastrophe, underscores the reality that we are living in a G-zero world. The bonds that once held nations together have severed, and there is nothing close to an international consensus on any hot-button matter being discussed today. Welcome to the G-Zero world, where we exist in a geopolitical power vacuum as the west declines and emerging nations (China, India) concentrate on their own domestic problems. It may be this way for a long while.