#withSyria coalition: Eighty-Three Percent of Syria’s Lights Extinguished After Four Years of Crisis

12 Mar, 2015 | Press Releases

12 March 2015
Eighty-three percent of all the lights in Syria have gone out since the start of the conflict there, a global coalition of humanitarian and human rights organisations has revealed ahead of the fourth anniversary on March 15.

Analysing satellite images, scientists based at Wuhan University in China and the University of Maryland, in co-operation with the #withSyria coalition of 130 non-governmental organisations, have shown that the number of lights visible over Syria at night has fallen by 83% since March 2011.

“Four years since this crisis began, Syria’s people have been plunged into the dark: destitute, fearful, and grieving for the friends they have lost and the country they once knew,” said David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. “Four years since the crisis began, there is at present very little light in this tunnel. Over two hundred thousand people have been killed and a staggering eleven million have been forced to flee their homes. Syrians deserve much better from the international community – it is past time to show that we have not given up and will work with them to turn the lights back on.”

“Satellite imagery is the most objective source of data showing the devastation of Syria on a national scale,” said Dr Xi Li, lead researcher on the project. “Taken from 500 miles above the earth, these images help us understand the suffering and fear experienced by ordinary Syrians every day, as their country is destroyed around them. In the worst-affected areas, like Aleppo, a staggering 97% of the lights have gone out. The exceptions are the provinces of Damascus and Quneitra, near the Israeli border, where the decline in light has been 35% and 47% respectively.”

The #withSyria coalition also today released a hard-hitting film and launched a global petition at withsyria.com that calls on world leaders to ‘turn the lights back on in Syria’ by:

  • Prioritising a political solution with human rights at its heart;
  • Boosting the humanitarian response both for those inside Syria and refugees, including through increased resettlement;
  • Insisting that all parties put an end to attacks on civilians and stop blocking aid

Dr Zaher Sahloul, President of the Syrian American Medical Society, said: “The rise of terrorist groups crossing borders has spread fear and focused the world’s attention on Syria – but it has distracted governments from the suffering of ordinary Syrians and the abuses committed by all sides in this conflict. Every day Syrian medics, aid workers and teachers are taking enormous risks to help their neighbours and loved ones, while the international community continuously fails to pursue a political solution and an end to the violence and suffering.”

In late 2014, the EU imposed a ban on the export of jet fuel and fuel additives to Syria to weaken the Syrian government’s ability to carry out attacks from the air against civilians, notably by dropping barrel bombs from helicopters. On 7 March 2015, the EU sanctioned more individuals and entities supporting the Syrian regime, furthering pressure on the regime to come to seek a peaceful resolution. These actions have come on the back of three UN Security Council resolutions adopted in 2014 that demanded action to secure protection and assistance for civilians in Syria.

Since then, thousands of Syrians have been killed, and more people have been displaced or are in need of help than ever before. A new report ‘Failing Syria’ released today accuses warring parties and powerful states of failing to achieve what these resolutions set out to do.

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council and former United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said: “2014 was the darkest year yet in this horrific war. Civilians are not protected as the Security Council promised they would be, their access to relief has not improved and humanitarian funding is declining compared to the needs. It is an outrage how we are failing Syrians.”

Notes to Editors:  

  • The analysis of satellite imagery of Syria was conducted by Dr. Xi Li of the Laboratory for Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing at Wuhan University in China. These figures were updated from Dr Xi’s (2014) study published in the International Journal of Remote Sensing, in which he and Prof. Deren Li analysed the effect of the Syrian Crisis on levels of night-time light as a means of evaluating and monitoring the conflict. By comparing the levels of light in March 2011 and February 2014, they found that in all of the provinces, the levels of night-time light had declined sharply following the breakout of the conflict. Indeed, in most provinces, the level of night-time light decreased by more than 60%. The authors also found that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from each province showed a linear correlation with the level of night-light loss.
  • The province-by-province percentage decline in light is as follows: Idlib (96%); Al-Hasakah (77%); Al-Raqqah (96%); Al-Suwayda (80%); Quneitra (47%); Latakia (88%); Aleppo (97%); Hama (87%); Homs (87%); Daraa (74%); Deir ez-Zor (90%); Rif Dimashq (78%); Tartus (87%); Damascus (33%).
  • These satellite images, spanning the four years of crisis, are available for download here.
  • Photographs and b-roll will also be available of a community-led gathering inside Syria, during which Syrian children will release lights into the dawn sky, symbolising the need to turn lights back on in Syria.
  • The #withSyria coalition is a movement of humanitarian and human rights organisations from around the world, including Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), standing in solidarity with those caught in the conflict. More information, including a new petition and global campaign film: http://www.withsyria.com [new site going live at 00:01 March 12].
  • A group of aid agencies today also released a scathing critique of the UN Security Council powers detailing how they have failed civilians in Syria. The report, from International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision, shows that although three UN resolutions meant to secure protection and assistance for civilians were passed last year, humanitarian access to large parts of Syria has diminished and more people are being killed, displaced and are in need of assistance.
  • The video for the campaign, Afraid of the Dark, was created by multi-award-winning agency Don’t Panic, who also created the Most Shocking Second a Day video to mark the conflict’s third anniversary last year. It starts with a young Syrian teenager living a comfortable life, with little more to be afraid of than the dark. But then we realise he is having a flashback to four years ago. Now, he is a 17-year-old man doing what he can to rescue other young victims of the conflict from the darkness that surrounds them.

The full list of signatories to this release is:  
ACT Alliance; Alkarama Foundation; Alliance for Peacebuilding; American Friends Service Committee; Amnesty International; Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies; Arab Coalition for Sudan; Arab Foundation for Civil Society; Arab Network for NGO Development; Arab Organisation for Human Rights – Egypt; Arab Organisation for Human Rights – Libya; Arab Organisation for Human Rights – Syria; Arab Program For Human Rights Activists; Badael Foundation; Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society; Broederlijk Delen; CAABU (Council for Arab-British Understanding); CAFOD; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; CARE France; CARE Germany; CARE International; CARE Luxembourg; CARE UK; CARE USA; Caritas Australia; Caritas Czech Republic; Center for Victims of Torture; ChildrenPlus; Christian Aid; Church of England; Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC); Darfur Bar Association; Dawlaty; Development and Peace; Doctors of the World UK; Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network; Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH); Fraternity Birati Center for Democracy and Civil Society; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Global Center for R2P; Global Communities; GOAL; Governance Bureau – Sudan; Hand in Hand for Syria; HelpAge International; Human Rights & Democracy Media Center (SHAMS); Human Rights First Society – Saudi Arabia; Human Rights Watch; Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation (HIVOS); International Rescue Committee (IRC); Islamic Relief; Johanniter International Assistance; Justice et Paix; Karam Foundation; Lebanese Center for Human Rights; Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH); MAP UK; Médecins du Monde (MdM); MENA Coalition to Stop use of Child Soldiers; MercyCorps; Middle East and North Africa Partnership for Preventing of Armed Conflict; Najda-Now; No Peace Without Justice; Nonviolence Network in the Arab Countries; Norwegian Church Aid; Norwegian Refugee Council; One World Egypt; Open Doors International; Open Doors UK & Ireland; Oxfam International; Pax Christi International; People In Need; Permanent Peace Movement; Physicians for Human Rights; Protection Approaches; Refugees International; Refugee Council; Relief & Reconciliation for Syria AISBL; Rethink Rebuild Society; Save the Children; Sawa for Development and Aid; Solidarités International; Souriyat Association; South Africa Forum for International Solidarity (SAFIS); Sudan Social Development Organisations (SUDO UK); Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS); Syrian Athletics Body; Syrian Community in Egypt; Syrian Relief and Development; Syrian Women Hand in Hand; Tearfund; The Day After Association; The Syria Campaign; The Violation Documentation Center in Syria; Trocaire; United to End Genocide; Welthungerhilfe; World Food Program USA; World Vision; World Vision UK; Zarga Organisation for Rural Development (ZORD) – Sudan.

For further information, contact Gianluca Eramo on geramo@npwj.org or +32-2-548-3912 or Nicola Giovannini on ngiovannini@npwj.org or +32-2-548-3915.