Photo submitted by Archbishop Matta Roham

Firewood collection is destroying a forest of old trees in northeast Syria as people facing poverty and conflict struggle to cope with harsh winter conditions.

WINNIPEG, Man.—As nighttime temperatures plummet to below freezing in many parts of Syria, people are struggling to stay warm and dry.

In an email message to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Archbishop Matta Roham of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch says firewood collection is now destroying the forest of old trees in the National Park in Hasaake in northeast Syria.   

“I asked those who were cutting and carrying the wood why they do this,” says Roham, who visited the national park Jan. 15.  “The answer came: ‘we are poor and we have nothing to live. The weather is very cold and we need to warm our houses and make our living’.”

This email message is among many that MCC representative Sarah Adams receives from MCC partners in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon who are trying to meet some of the basic humanitarian needs of families affected by the prolonged Syrian conflict.

MCC is responding through supporting distribution of food, MCC kits and blankets, winter clothing and heaters. MCC also supports training in peacebuilding, trauma and humanitarian assistance.

To meet the growing needs, MCC is seeking additional funds to extend this assistance for a longer period of time and increase the number of families receiving this support.   

“The severity of the situation is increasing daily,” says Adams, who is based in Lebanon. “People are being forced to take new measures to keep their families alive, including returning to conflict-riddled neighborhoods in search of wooden doors and furniture that can be burned for warmth.”

According to United Nation estimates, the overall number of people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria quadrupled between March 2012 and December 2012, from one million to four million.

It is estimated that up to a million Syrian refugees will need help during the first half of 2013, with most of these located in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.

Even as the humanitarian needs continue to increase, Adams says MCC partners are already looking at helping people heal from the trauma and psychological damage resulting from this prolonged conflict.  

MCC partner, Bishop Jean Kawak of the Syrian Orthodox Church says: “The impact of the crisis will not be limited to the absence of food or shelter. Neither will it be limited to the physical damages of today.

“The bigger impact will be the psychological one. The current generations are being taught that the language of weapons and power prevail. It will take years to reduce the psychological damage this crisis has caused to our children.”

To learn more visit mcccanada.ca.