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.