The Forgotten Toll
On Thursday, June 8th, an airstrike in Zardana village in Idlib killed at least 35 and injured dozens more, marking it one of the deadliest incidents in Idlib in 2018 thus far. The attack was a “double tap,” meaning the planes returned to bomb the same area after rescue teams already arrived in Zardana4. Families in the local village were partaking in what was supposed to be their joyous iftar meal—the meal eaten when breaking the Ramadan fast—when eight strikes attacked the settlement, covering civilians with blood and shrapnel and ending the lives of dozens3. The death toll continues to rise as more bodies are being uncovered beneath rubble and injuries pave way to fatalities. Although no one has yet claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack of the year, several sources are point fingers towards Russia. Russia has denied any involvement4.
Idlib is one of the last territories in Syria controlled by the rebel forces. While the attack on Thursday was an uncommon one ever since Russia, Turkey, and Iran declared Idlib as part of a de-escalation zone, the region is no stranger to a plethora of devastating issues. Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled or been forced to migrate to Idlib since the start of the seven year old war3.
Life in Idlib has not seen darker times: shortage of food, employment opportunities, medicine and aid have left Syrians in a near impossible situation. While it is commonly known that the lack of food and health care is taking a toll on Syrians’ bodies, sometimes even leading to death, what is more unknown and often forgotten is the toll that the war has taken on their mental health. A report issued by Syrian Bright Future, an NGO focused on mental health, has reported that more than 50 percent of Syria’s population is in need of mental health support. In the Idlib region specifically, 90 percent of that 50 is caused by war and displacement. One Syrian in particular has stated, “Before the war, I remember wanting to graduate from university, to get a job, to get married and build a house. Now, my family is broken.”2 Another states, “My younger brothers have no future because there are no schools left–they are open a couple days a week, and when one school is hit, the others close out of fear.”2 These feelings of hopelessness and lack of will to live have been noted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as the most prevalent and significant clinical problems among Syrians.1
Despite the wide-scale nature of the mental health crisis, it seems that the mental trauma of Syrian civilians is often swept under the rug, with the primary focus being on physical resources such as food, water and medicine. While it can be argued that the distribution of these resources should take precedence over the mental health crisis, others disagree. As a doctor who spent years providing medical relief in Syria states, “I believe the world should pay attention to the future of Syria by lending a healing hand to its traumatized children. If we don’t, we will have to face the ugly and unpredictable consequences in the years ahead.”5 What consequences could this doctor be referring to?
For starters, it is proven that children suffering from mental health issues in Syria are “at high risk of becoming drug addicts, prostitutes, and extremists themselves.”5 Broken and vulnerable, extremist groups are known to prey on these children and provide them guidance, stability and security in an otherwise tumultuous time. Additionally, women and teens are known to be admitted to hospitals every few days as a result of attempted suicide through ingestion of insecticides. It seems that the seven-year war in Syria as deteriorated not only property and bodies of ailing citizens, but the minds of many young as well. It is time that officials draw attention to this insidious issue, lest it amplify overtime, with the consequences rippling outwards for years to come.
By: Deepika Singh
- Karasapan, Omer. “Syria’s Mental Health Crisis.” Brookings. July 29, 2016. Accessed June 11, 2018. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2016/04/25/syrias-mental-health-crisis/.
- “Life under Bombardment: A Look into the Mental Health Crisis in Syria.” International Rescue Committee (IRC). March 19, 2018. Accessed June 11, 2018. https://www.rescue.org/article/life-under-bombardment-look-mental-health-crisis-syria.
- McKernan, Bethan. “Airstrike on Rebel-held Village in Northwest Syria Kills at Least 44.” The Independent. June 08, 2018. Accessed June 11, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-airstrike-assad-russia-rebel-held-village-idlib-zardata-death-toll-a8388956.html.
- CBS/AP. “Russia Denies Airstrikes Kill Dozens in Syria “de-escalation” Zone in Idlib.” CBS News. June 08, 2018. Accessed June 11, 2018. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/syria-idlib-alleged-russian-airstrikes-zardana-home-to-displaced-today-2018-6-8/.
- Sahloul, M. Zaher. “Why Ignoring Mental Health Needs of Young Syrian Refugees Could Harm Us All.” The Conversation. June 08, 2018. Accessed June 11, 2018. https://theconversation.com/why-ignoring-mental-health-needs-of-young-syrian-refugees-could-harm-us-all-88284.