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Syria’s war is 10 years old. It’s the only life its children know

Syria is a “living nightmare” where about half the children have never lived a day without war and 60 per cent of Syrians are at risk of going hungry, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the conflict.

“It is impossible to fully fathom the extent of the devastation in Syria, but its people have endured some of the greatest crimes the world has witnessed this century. The scale of the atrocities shocks the conscience,” Guterres said.

“Syria has fallen off the front page. And yet, the situation remains a living nightmare.”

A crackdown by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington supporting the opposition. Millions of people have fled Syria and millions are internally displaced.

“More humanitarian access is needed,” Guterres told reporters. “Intensified cross-line and cross-border deliveries are essential to reach everyone in need everywhere.”

Here’s a look at how the conflict has specifically affected children.

12,000 children killed or wounded

Syria’s 10-year-long civil war has killed or wounded almost 12,000 children and left millions out of school in what could have repercussions for years to come in the country, UNICEF said Wednesday.

The statistics were released in a UNICEF report ahead of the anniversary. The war has killed nearly half a million people, wounded more than a million and displaced half the country’s population, including more than five million as refugees.

Over the past year, the situation has been compounded by a severe economic and financial crisis and the spread of coronavirus in this Mideast country, where medical facilities have been hard hit by a devastating war.

Psychosocial stress

The reported numbers of children displaying symptoms of psychosocial distress doubled in 2020 as continued exposure to violence, shock and trauma had a significant impact on children’s mental health, with short and long-term implications, the report said.

“One in four children have signs of psychosocial distress,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s Mideast and North Africa director. This is the double number of the previous year, according to the UN agency.

More than 5,700 children, some as young as seven years old, were also recruited into the fighting.

Humanitarian assistance needed

The agency said that nearly 2.45 million children in Syria and an additional 750,000 Syrian children in neighbouring countries are out of school, 60 per cent of them boys. It said the situation for many children and families remains precarious, with nearly 90 per cent of children in need of humanitarian assistance — a 20 per cent increase in the past year alone.

“This cannot be just another grim milestone, passing by in the world’s peripheral vision as children and families in Syria continue to struggle,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.

Living in tents in winter

Assad’s forces have gained control of much of the country with the help of his allies Russia and Iran. Insurgents still control an area in Syria’s northwest that is home to more than three million people, many of them internally displaced.

UNICEF said the situation in the northwest is “alarming,” with many families that have fled violence multiple times — some as many as seven times — in search of safety. It said children have suffered through another long winter where many people living in tents and unfinished buildings battled severe weather, including torrential rain and snow.

Chronic malnutrition

UNICEF is appealing for $1.4 billion US for its response inside Syria and the neighbouring countries for 2021.

The agency said as the economic crisis worsened last year, the price of the average food basket increased by over 230 per cent. More than half a million children under the age of five in Syria “suffer from stunting as a result of chronic malnutrition.”

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