1,000 Days of Suffering: Protecting The Children of Syria

WFP/Marco Frattini

1,095 days. That’s how long the people of Syria have been living under siege as the nation’s civil war enters its fourth year this Saturday.

1,000 days also represents the critical window in the beginning of a child’s life—from a mother’s pregnancy to a child’s 2nd birthday—when good nutrition can mean the difference between a life of good health and promise, or a life plagued by illness and a future of unrealized potential. 

Thousands of Syrian children have only ever known life during war. As UNICEF points out in its newest report, “After three years of conflict and turmoil, Syria is now one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child.”

Today, nearly half of Syria’s 2.5 million refugees are children, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Syria suffered from high rates of childhood malnutrition even before fighting broke out in March 2011. From 2009 to 2011, the number of stunted children in Syria rose from 23 to 29 percent, according to UNICEF. Since then, those numbers have skyrocketed. In Lebanon alone, an estimated 2,000 refugees under the age of five are now at risk of dying and need immediate treatment to survive.

During a temporary ceasefire in January, aid workers rescued a baby named Khaled from a refugee camp outside of Damascus that had been under siege for months. By the time relief arrived, Khaled suffered from a severe form of malnutrition known as Kwashiorkor as a result of surviving for two months on water and almost no solid food.

“He was about to die,” a doctor with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees recalled. Yet after just 20 days of treatment, Khaled has made a full recovery. For millions of Syrian children, however, the damage that malnutrition causes to their bodies and brains will be permanent.

But together with its humanitarian partners on the ground, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been working to prevent and treat malnutrition among Syrian children during their first 1,000 days of life through fortified, ready-to-eat foods and education outreach.

In Zataari, for example, WFP and Save the Children Jordan are distributing a specialized product known as Super Cereal Plus to all pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under five. Zataari—now the world’s second-largest refugee camp—is home to nearly 150,000 Syrian refugees, half of whom are children. Two years after its opening, the camp has become Jordan’s 4th largest “city.” On average, 13 babies are born there each day.

As activist Malala Yousafzai said during a visit to Jordan last month to meet with Syria’s youngest survivors: “It’s a risk to all of us if we ignore them … Because their bright future means our bright future, and the future of the whole world.”

To help WFP reach Syrian children, click here.