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Desperate for Fuel, Syrians Chop Down National Forest

Desperate for Fuel, Syrians Chop Down National Forest

Whether it’s a revolution of the people or the act of a militant dictator, war is never pretty. Lives are lost, cultural landmarks destroyed, society changed forever. The Syrian civil war, also commonly referred to as the Syrian uprising, has been ongoing for almost two years. It has involved multiple bloody massacres and displaced millions, including 200,000 children.

As we watch the Syrian struggle, it’s easy to forget that humans aren’t the only ones affected by armed conflict. The physical world, the environment we depend on for water, food and the very air we breathe, is often a silent victim of our warmongering as well. In Syria, civilians have become desperate for a way to stay warm as the uprising drags on through the winter. With the conflict making fuel and electricity scarce, many have begun to cut down nearby trees at an alarming rate.

Once a tourist destination for Syrians and other Arabs across the Middle East, the formerly pristine national park to the north and west of the city of Idlib is being systematically stripped bare, reports the Saudi Gazette. Bald, muddy swathes of fresh-cut land now stretch in many directions, with men using chainsaws to bring trees down and dozens of pick-up trucks coming and going for loads of lumber.

These national forests are precious to the Syrians, as they have precious few wooded areas to spare. Just 1.4 percent of the country is covered with woodland, according to an estimate by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Green Prophet reports that a special unit of vigilant forest rangers was stationed in the park to protect it from just this kind of destruction, but with the onset of the war, it was disbanded. Now no one stands between the trees and those with chainsaws and axes.

Still, in a time when there is little work and even less fuel that can be used to stave off the life-threatening cold, it’s hard to place  blame on those desperate for a way to power their ovens or protect their children from the freezing wind. Chainsaw operators are reported to receive $5 for each tree knocked down, and truck drivers approximately $150 for each ton of lumber transported.

Though we hope the conflict will end soon, allowing the Syrians other fuel options, the current deforestation will have lasting effects on the region. The area used to be a tourist attraction, a place where Syrians came to enjoy the shade and beauty of the old growth trees, many of them conifers and oaks. Once the tanks and guns and soldiers have gone, the stumps will remain. A stark reminder of the generations of death that result when we wage war against ourselves.


Related Reading:

Syrian Government Cuts Off Internet Access

Syria’s Archaeological Heritage Threatened By Fighting

The Mighty Pen: Creative Dissent In Syria


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1:50AM PST on Feb 28, 2013

Damn :(

1:02PM PST on Feb 18, 2013

No one is winning in Syria. You have to do what you have to do just to survive.

4:54AM PST on Feb 14, 2013

Valentina - this is NOT about money. This is about survival during a long and terrible civil war in a harsh winter. Yes, life is important. But which life? Your life? Your wife's life? Your child's life? Or a tree that in time can be replaced? If you want to understand more of what life is like in their circumstances, read my many posts below - and if you've never faced those dire conditions and desperate choices yourself, judge not. Can you not conceive of that kind of desperation?

Is THAT too hard to understand?

As for the money paid, that merely reflects the scarcity & high cost of gas for the truck, the danger of standing in queues for hours to get what bit of gas is available, and the likelihood of being bombed either in the gas queue or on the road.

4:37PM PST on Feb 13, 2013

Makes me both sad and angry to no end. Trees are life. Life is more important than money. Is it too hard to understand?

8:52AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

Very sad!

8:15AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

This an awful practice!

5:42AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

Thank you Beth, for Sharing this!

5:14AM PST on Feb 13, 2013

Delays in my comments appearing meant a portion between posts 2 & 3 were cut off - here it is;

If it was some mega-corporation who was going into Syria to chop down the trees, I would be first in line to chain myself to them to prevent it. But it’s not. Desperate circumstances drive anyone to take desperate measures, as the instinct to survive kicks in, and until we have walked a mile in their shoes we have no right to criticise or condemn. Much as I love those forests, I understand their need to do whatever it takes to survive this horrendous calamity that has befallen them.

I can safely surmise you have never been to Syria, otherwise you would not call the people ignorant.... etc.

5:06AM PST on Feb 13, 2013


I can safely surmise you have never been to Syria, otherwise you would not call the people ignorant. Clicking through to the link in the article, this is what one of those drivers had to say;

““My heart burns to see all the trees cut down. But there’s no choice. People need to stay warm,” said Hamad Al-Tawheed, one of many pick-up drivers for the firewood-to-be in Darkush……..Syrian civilians found themselves suffering from a fuel crisis that meant power cuts across the whole country……….There is a dire need for this wood to make fuel not only in the homes of Syrians living in Darkush, but also in the businesses, like bakeries, in some of the country’s main cities.”

So, Suzie, decision time - starvation or being frozen to death for potentially hundreds of thousands of people, young and old; or the loss of some beautiful pristine forest areas that will, over time, be replenished? That is the choice on this subject. I know where my choice lay. Where does yours?

Perhaps you should bear in mind what Abraham Lincoln had to say – “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”.

5:03AM PST on Feb 13, 2013


I repeat, THIS IS NOT ABOUT OVER-POPULATION. The Syrians are not “popping out children unabated”, Syria has plenty of space for its people. In Roman times, Syria was referred to as “the bread basket of the Roman Empire” as it grew most of the grain needed to feed the empire – in places you can still see the remains of the Roman water systems that fed the land.

This war IS NOT ABOUT RELIGION. This war is about wanting to throw off the yolk of a cruel and mega-greedy dictator, and be free to choose who leads their country, to speak freely without fear, to not fear your children being arrested and tortured for no reason, to pursue a career or develop a business to improve your family’s lot without having to pay bribes or pay for permissions to the ruling regime. You cannot imagine the wealth accumulated by the Assad family and their acolytes, while the ordinary people have struggled to get by day by day.

It seems you couldn’t care less about children only having a "couple of blankets for the whole family to snuggle under at night" in the sub-zero temperatures, as long as it’s not YOUR KIDS. You don’t care what anyone else may be suffering, as long as you and your family are well-fed, and nice and comfortable in your centrally-heated/air-conditioned home. YOU are the one who needs to see the bigger picture.

If it was some mega-corporation who was going into Syria to chop down the trees, I would be first in

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