Statistics of Tragedy

( For my Project 2 of Competent Communication Manual,  Toastmasters, I gave the below speech. I received a lot of positive response for the speech, hence am sharing with all of you guys. )

“The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic”

It comes as no surprise that it was said by Stalin. The thing is .. He was right.

Large numbers often appear cold and distant, and almost comforting. Easy to turn our backs to it.

That is what happened to Syria.

4 years of brutal civil war

250,000 dead

10 million, i.e. over half of its population displaced.

And we didn’t talk about it until one photograph became viral.

It was the picture of a little boy, wearing red shirt and blue pants, lying face down on a beach.

He was Aylan Kurdi, a 3 year old toddler, whose body washed ashore on a beach in Turkey on 2nd September this year.

What have we done? Where have we come?

My objective today is to talk to you about the worst refugee crisis faced by the World since World War 2.

To understand the current crisis, we need to go back to 2011. The year of Arab Spring. There were series of protests and rebellions that sparked across the Arab Nations, demanding democracy. While countries like Egypt, Libya and Yemen were successful in removing their dictators, things got ugly in Syria.

Syria at that point was ruled by Bashar Al Assad. He decided to squash the rebellion with brutal army assault. There were mass executions and bombings and even reports of use of chemical weapons against civillians. To make matters worse, ISIS saw this as an opportunity to increase its foothold in Syria, and launched attacks on rebel groups and Assad led army. Imagine being caught in a 3 sided war. Millions of Syrians fled their homes. Approximately 4 million refugees currently reside in just 5 neighboring countries

Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan

Now these countries do not have enough resources to support such large number of refugees. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, i.e. UNHCR severely lacked funds. Conditions worsened in refugee camps.

Out of desperation, people started moving towards Europe. And Europe responded by increasing border patrol and making it almost inaccessible by land. People attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea in homemade rafts, and make shift rubber boats. Thousands have drowned. And so far they have just been numbers. “11 drown as boat capsizes, 27 missing .. “ just numbers appearing on corners of newspapers, running headlines on the bottom of a news channel.

Just after midnight, on 2nd Sept 2015, Aylan Kurdi and his family got on a small boat with 12 other people. The boat was built for 8.

Next day, photographs of the tragedy taken by a Turkish journalist went viral. It forced us to look at the plight of the refugees. To realize that they are people not numbers. Not number of blankets in a refugee camp, not kilograms of rationed grains, but humans in flesh and bones. Desperate for a safe haven, as they live their worst nightmare.

Angelina Jolie, special envoy to UNHCR, was quoted “It is sickening to see thousands of refugees drowning on the doorstep of the world’s wealthiest continent. No one risks the lives of their children in this way except out of utter desperation.”

The European Union till date is struggling to reach consensus. They have agreed to take in 120,000 refugees over the next few years. A paltry number compared to 1 million currently hosted by a small country like Jordan. They have also agreed to contribute 1 billion euros to the World Food Program. But there is no denying that a lot needs to be done.

Today European Nations are forced to take action because the tragedy of Aylan Kurdi made everyone realize that we cannot afford to turn our back away from this. We felt the desperation of a father who made the choice of putting his 3 year old boy in a makeshift raft to cross a sea because for him it was safer than the land they were fleeing from.

As John Green said, “we need statistics to explain tragedies, but let us not forget what is precious”. My objective today was to share with you the plight of the Syrian Refugees. They deserve your compassion, your empathy. They are more than just numbers in a news report.