Monday 24 October 2016

Comment: If peace talks fail, we face complete destruction of Syria

Bríd Kennedy

Published 29/01/2016 | 02:30

President Assad of Syria and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Assad of Syria and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

If this week's peace talks in Geneva are not successful, the outlook appears bleak - not just for Syria, but for the rest of the world.

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Despite years of efforts to bring about peace in Syria, the international community has lacked the political will to facilitate the necessary agreements.

The grisly war lumbers on, unchecked, taking with it countless civilian lives and limbs.

If this continues, we are facing a grim and desolate future.

We need few reminders that the policy failures of the international community are becoming increasingly visible, reflected in the flow of refugees seeking safety and protection in Europe, especially over the past 12 months.

The bottom line is that Syria has endured almost five years of war.

The country is largely destroyed, with cities and infrastructure reduced to debris and rubble. The scale of the destruction is likely to be similar to some nations post-World War II.

For many Syrians who lived in the suburbs of Homs, Aleppo or Kobane, there simply isn't a home to return to, even if the war was to end today.

Entire towns have been levelled. The country will not recover for years, or even decades, and billions will be needed for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

The town of Madaya made international headlines recently as photos emerged of emaciated children in the besieged town, reduced to eating grass and leaves for survival. Some residents died of starvation because food was so scarce.

In a country where barrel bombs and gruesome attacks on civilians are a part of daily life, few see genuine prospects for reform.

More than 200,000 people have been killed as a result of the war.

Over four million Syrians have fled the country and are now eking out a life elsewhere as refugees.

Behind these cold, hard numbers are real people. Children, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers.

The same as you or I, the same as your family or neighbours. They have the same hopes, dreams and ambitions that you or I have for our children and our future.

The devastating effects of the war are not confined to Syria.

The enduring bloodshed is not only the world's biggest humanitarian disaster, it is also the world's biggest geopolitical hazard.

The impact of the crisis is being felt in the region and beyond. The spill-over into neighbouring countries is impossible to miss.

Turkey is now home to 2.5 million Syrian refugees. Lebanon, a tiny country, has welcomed more than one million.

According to the UN, more than 80pc of refugees in Lebanon are paying rent for shelter. More than half of them have accumulated a debt of more than US$400 and this is rising steadily, with no opportunity for formal employment.

The brunt of this is particularly hard to bear given their background - before the war, Syria was a middle-income country with healthcare services and infrastructure. It is hard to go from having so much to having so little.

How on earth can we expect them to continue like this, particularly after five years of conflict, if there is no prospect of peace?

What Syrians want more than anything is to return home in peace.

Assisting those affected by the conflict is essential, but the ultimate goal must be to end the bloody and protracted war.

The leaders of the international community must summon the political will and muscle to broker peace and halt the hostilities.

The peace talks in Geneva are a real and powerful opportunity for the Syrian crisis to be resolved through political negotiation and international diplomacy.

Without peace in Syria, one of the key objectives of the sustainable development goals (SDG)is entirely out of reach: to "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels."

All other SDGs hinge on this goal - without peace, the other goals cannot possibly be achieved.

Moreover, achieving peace in Syria would undoubtedly have the biggest impact on the refugee crisis unfolding around the world.

The global imperative must be resolving the Syrian crisis and bringing peace to the region.

Peace is cohesive, it is the glue that binds us together. War is the irreconcilable reverse; fracturing families, rupturing communities, shattering entire countries.

In the absence of a peace deal, we are facing the complete destruction of Syria and an escalation in the global refugee crisis.

The time for peace is now.

Bríd Kennedy is Regional Director Middle East & Asia with Concern Worldwide

Irish Independent

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