"Syria has become the great tragedy of the century – a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history." These words were spoken by António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Guterres stated this following the release of a UNHCR report indicating that the number of refugees in Syria has passed the two million mark, with almost one million of these refugees being children. Alarmingly, this statistic of two million represents a rise of 1.8 million refugees in 12 months, up from 230 671 refugees reported in the preceding 12 months.
in the December 2012 editorial of Conflict Trends, i reported a death toll of 50 000 people in Syria between the start of the war in early 2011 and the end of 2012. Barely six months later, that number has more than doubled to over 110 000 people dead. Both the significant increase in the number of refugees and the doubling of the death toll signifies a marked escalation in the Syrian civil war.
The refugees are ironically hosted by egypt, iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, which are all countries experiencing their own internal conflict and significant political challenges. These countries, as well as others in the region, including iran, israel and Saudi Arabia, are thus drawn into Syria's internal conflict. This adds a significant and complex regional dynamic to the Syrian conflict.
in addition, the role of the United States (US), France, the United Kingdom and Russia has internationalised this conflict further. presently (3 September 2013), both the US and Russia have an armada of ships in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Syria. The US and its allies are poised to strike Syria soon and Russia is presumably on standby to assist the Syrian government defend itself, should such an attack occur.
The implications for international peace and security cannot be overstated. its consequences for the world are grave. There is potential for a conflagration of epic proportions in an already unstable region awash with weapons, including weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons. The human costs will be devastating and the financial costs to the region and global economy will be high.
This will not be the first time that the world will experience war with such devastating consequences. There have been many examples in history where war has simultaneously consumed many nations and affected millions of people. However, the Syrian war is the first of such proportion in this century. This may be due to the sheer sophistication of modern weapons to create such rapid death, destruction and displacement. Whatever the explanation, how the Syrian war ends will determine the road we as humanity have chosen as we arrive at the crossroads of civilisation in this 21st century.
This region is not new to conflict. Centuries ago Greater Syria, which was made up of the territories today known as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and israel and connecting three continents, was the battleground for the political destinies of dynasties and empires. it is once again the battleground of a conflict that extends far beyond the dead and displaced in Syria. How we handle the Syrian conflict today will determine the kind of civilisation we build tomorrow.
All who hold the highest offices in those countries that have a direct or indirect interest in the outcome of the Syrian war – including the Secretary General of the United Nations, who is the standard bearer of the collective interest of humanity – must take responsibility for shaping humanity's destiny. i hope they will have the wisdom, fortitude and humility to rise to the occasion..
Founder and Executive Director of ACCORD.
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