11-year-old Bushra was born without the use of her legs. Three years ago, she, her mother, and four siblings fled their home in Syria with just the clothes on their backs to an informal settlement for displaced persons after shelling destroyed their home. CARE has helped Bushra get a wheelchair so she can get around independently. Delil Souleiman/CARE

11 years of war: Syrian families sacrificing the future to survive the present

15 MARCH 2022 – Acute poverty, COVID-19, drought, displacement, and 11 years of war are stretching the resilience and coping abilities of Syrians to the limit, a new CARE analysis has revealed, with families increasingly taking desperate measures, including early marriage and child labor, to stay alive.

“We are seeing households across the country under immense duress, confronted by unthinkable choices. Pay for critical medical treatment for an injured family member or feed the rest of the family? Buy firewood for heating or send the children to school? They’re having to sacrifice the future to survive the present,” says Jolien Veldwijk, CARE Syria Country Director.   

Nine out of ten Syrians live below the poverty line with 67% requiring humanitarian assistance. Psychological stress is high. In the northwest, 97% of the population lives on less than two dollars a day, and many women report domestic violence as a major concern. Suicide rates are alarmingly high. Almost one in five recorded attempts and deaths in the northwest are children under 20 years old. Most affected are those living in households led by a person with a disability, and women-led households (22% of Syrian families) where access to food and basic needs is poor.  

Nearly 70% of the country suffers from food insecurity. Nearly half a million children suffer from stunted growth and over 90,000 children from acute malnutrition. Syria’s former breadbasket in the northeast is now devastated by droughts leading to one in four households surveyed eating one meal a day, and one in five children suffering from malnutrition.

Sixty percent of the parents interviewed in northern Syria said they sacrificed meals for their children. Other coping strategies included: eliminating meat, fruit, and vegetables from the diet; selling off farmland and animals; begging and borrowing; sending children to work; marrying off underage daughters; engaging in high‐risk income‐generating activities.

“The tragic reality for many Syrians is that with the collapsing economy pushing necessary items such as fresh food and medication out of reach, education is an afterthought,” says Sherine Ibrahim, CARE Turkey Country Director. “Negative coping strategies affect resilience and the capacity to generate income in the future, making these families even more vulnerable to food insecurity and more dependent on assistance.”

Over half the children in Syria have been deprived of education. More boys than girls are engaged in child labour, with some working in conditions unfit even for adults. Girls have an increased burden at home, and many (over 46%) are married well before they turn 18. 

“Some 11-year-old children have gone their whole lives without setting foot in a classroom,” says Veldwijk. Childhood should be a time for children to learn, grow and dream. Instead, we’re looking at a whole generation of uneducated, traumatized Syrians at great risk of remaining trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence their entire lives.”

CARE calls on the international community to urgently increase humanitarian resources for Syria, focusing on life-saving interventions and resilience programming. Over the past years, humanitarian needs have been rising but funding has not followed suit. In 2021, the funding needed to meet Syrian's basic needs under the humanitarian response plan grew by 10.7% but the amount of money received dropped by 12.1% meaning that only 46.6% of the plan was funded. This represents a large gap between the enormous humanitarian needs faced by 14 million Syrians and the assistance available to support them.

“We need to create jobs and livelihood opportunities, so people can stand on their own two feet and are prepared for future shocks,” says Ibrahim. “We also urgently need to increase food and agricultural support, so mothers don’t have to fear their children might starve. Eleven years of war are eleven years too many. Despite everything else going on in the world at the moment, we want to remind people that the needs of Syrians haven’t vanished, and the Syria crisis remains a major, acute humanitarian emergency.” 

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About CARE Canada:

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization working around the globe to save lives, defeat poverty, and achieve social justice. CARE puts women and girls at the centre of our work because we know we cannot overcome poverty until all people have equal rights and opportunities. CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls to lift themselves, their families, and communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE works in over 100 countries around the world.

To learn more about CARE Canada, visit www.care.ca.