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The lamps are going out over Syria

20 March 2015

christian aid/LI XI

THE metaphorical darkness of the conflict and human suffering in Syria has been matched by the physical decline in the number of lights still working, providing a symbolic picture of the worsening crisis. To mark the fourth anniversary of the Syrian war, more than 130 humanitarian and human-rights organisations have launched a campaign to focus the attention of world leaders on the plight of civilians. Based on satellite images, the campaign With Syria shows that 83 per cent of the lights in Syria have gone out since 2011 (above: 2011; below 2015).

A joint statement by the organisations, which include Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Oxfam, and Save the Children, said that four years after it started, "the Syrian crisis continues to deepen, and the human suffering is greater than ever before." The destruction of 83 per cent of lights had plunged "streets, homes, schools, and hospitals into darkness", and was "gradually extinguishing hope. Yet in the face of this darkness, ordinary Syrians are committing unseen acts of heroism every day. Inspired by their courage, we must stand #WithSyria and do all we can to help end the suffering and Turn the Lights Back On."

The humanitarian and human-rights group teamed up with Dr Li Xi, a scientist from the University of Wuhan, China, who is working at the University of Maryland. He has been analysing the amounts of light being emitted from Syria through satellite imagery at night.

The campaigning bodies are calling on world leaders urgently to take action to boost the humanitarian response, by meeting funding commitments, and ensuring that refugees seeking safety find asylum. They want leaders also to "send an unequivocal message to parties to the conflict that attacks on civilians and blocks to aid will not be tolerated." Also, they say, world leaders should prioritise a political solution with human rights at its heart, because "a halt to the suffering can only be achieved if negotiations - whether local or international -include safeguards to ensure respect for international humanitarian and human-rights law.

A video accompanying the With Syria campaign shows Syrian children caught up in the destruction and darkness of war. In an attempt to support vulnerable and traumatised children, a project to ship teddy bears to Syria has been launched, building on the experience of a similar scheme in South Africa.

Ellie Targett, who is based in Herefordshire, became involved with the Pegasus Children's Trust, set up to rescue vulnerable children from the city streets of South Africa. From the thousands of children, one small girl, Honour, who had been sexually abused, caught Ms Targett's eye, and she decided that a teddy bear was what the child needed.

Ms Targett's suggestion developed into a broader scheme to collect teddy bears and send them to South Africa on a regular basis. Now, through the organisation Syria Relief and Development, Ms Targett is planning to send teddies and soft toys to suffering children in Syria. The aim is to ship 10,000 teddies, by the middle of June, into northern Syria, for distribution to children at the end of the sacred month of Ramadan, when parents traditionally give their children small gifts. Many Syrians are now unable to do so because of the conflict and displacement of families.

Support for the initiative has come from churches, schools, and post offices in the Herefordshire area, and a farmer has offered to store the teddies before their shipment to Syria. The Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Frith, said that he was "very interested to hear of Ellie's work collecting teddies for suffering children, and am very happy for her to set up collections in churches in the diocese."

For more information, email ellie.targett@hotmail.com.

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