Syria Crisis

The Syrian Mental Health Crisis Nobody Talks About

War has compromised the mental health of millions of Syrians. The problem is also transcending borders, following people as they seek safety abroad.

Syrian soldier in the outskirts of Damascus
Syrian soldier in the outskirts of Damascus
Katarina Montgomery

The war raging in Syria has created a severe mental health crisis that could have consequences for decades to come, and yet it is largely going unreported.

It is also the most underappreciated consequence of the war, according to Dr. Jalal Nofal, a leading mental health professional. “Mental health disorders related to trauma and stress are now widespread and psychotic disorders are on the rise as a result of the destruction of all sources of well-being in the country,” he told Syria Deeply.

Right from the early days of the conflict, in 2011, medical professionals warned that mass displacement, the trauma of daily exposure to violence and the deaths of loved ones were leading to a mental health epidemic among Syrians.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 350,000 Syrians are currently suffering from severe mental disorders while another 2 million or more are suffering from mild to moderate mental problems such as anxiety and depression disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD can be caused by experiencing an extreme shock or living through a difficult or painful experience. Symptoms, which can include angry outbursts, depression, nightmares and becoming withdrawn and aggressive, often start to manifest themselves a few months after the incident.

Dr. Nofal, who specializes in the treatment of traumatized children and was detained by the Assad government four times before fleeing to Turkey, said ensuring access to health care is nearly impossible with Syria's medical infrastructure on the “brink of collapse” and more than half of its hospitals destroyed or damaged.

“Syria doesn’t have resources in place for therapy because we don’t have a real psychosocial support system. Hospitals inside Syria are under the authority of the Syrian regime, so patients don’t speak about their symptoms out of fear of retaliation,” Dr. Nofal said.

He added that Syria’s mental health epidemic transcended its borders. The more than 3 million Syrians who have sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq who are struggling simply to survive lack the resources or means to seek help for their mental health issues.

“The inability to work in host countries, with refugees surviving on aid distribution, leads to alienation, despair, anxiety and depression," he said. "As a result, we are seeing a surge in domestic violence among Syrians, between wives and husbands, parents against children, and amongst children themselves.”

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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