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Republic of Queues

Millions of people are wallowing in the mire of privation, and a majority of households can barely scrape together enough to secure their next meal.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

It would be a gross understatement to suggest that Syria is in crisis. A decade after the Arab Spring convulsed a swathe of the world, the embattled nation teeters on the brink and has in the process incurred the appellation ~ ‘Republic of Queues’.

The humanitarian crisis that plagues the people, their patience sorely tried over the past ten years, is no less critical than the repressive governance of Bashr al-Assad. One has to wait for five hours at a gas station to fill up a tank, in itself testament to the almost crippling scarcity of fuel.

There are long and chaotic waits too outside bakeries ~ essential food stores ~ merely to collect the quota of two bread packs per day per family. The endemic shortage of bread recalls the crisis in France in 1789 though, mercifully, the seat of authority in Damascus is yet to recommend cakes as an alternative, as once did Marie Antoinette.

There is widespread shortage too of  medicines (for young and old alike), baby milk and diapers. Of corrective steps on the part of the administration there has been little or nothing; of concern for the hungry even less. And yet President Assad soldiers on, with Russia and Iran arguably cheering his failed regime from the sidelines. It is a regular sight in embattled Damascus to see beggars accost motorists and passersby for food and money.

For the beleaguered hoi-polloi, both are scarce commodities a decade after Tunisia exploded and the flame spread to the rest of the Arab world. Millions of people are wallowing in the mire of privation, and a majority of households can barely scrape together enough to secure their next meal.

What will they fathom international game-theory who only hunger and privation know? With Assad gearing up to run for his fourth seven-year presidential term, there is speculation over whether he can survive the ecomic blitz and anger in areas under his control. It is reason for alarm that poverty levels are presently worse than at any point during the ten-year conflict that has impacted the Arab region but few countries as acutely as Syria.

And the dithering by the United Nations has been the striking feature of the ferment both in Libya and Syria. The UN has done little or nothing to ameliorate the widespread suffering caused by the food crisis, reminiscent of the predicament of Yemen. It remained for a woman resident of Damascus to size up the situation succinctly ~ “Life here is a portrait of everday humiliation and suffering.”

The distress on account of a war without end is unfathomable. Nearly half a million people have been killed and more than half the pre-war population of 23 million displaced. We do not know whether Vladimir Putin’s Russia has been pounding the rebel targets from the skies. Yet we do know that the Kremlin has tacitly condoned Assad’s misrule, let alone address the double whammy of a food and fuel crisis.