4 Unexpected Ways to Make Sense Of What is Happening in Syria Right Now


Over the last few months, the press and many NGOs have been reporting on various aspects of the Syrian crisis through numbers related to both refugees and chemical weapons stockpiles. Unfortunately, these numbers are often difficult to conceptualize when you read them in traditional press outlets, so I thought I'd try to put some of them into perspective by using some atypical conversion methods.

First, a bit of background: Just this week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that UN officials had made visits to almost all of the chemical weapons facilities in Syria. Two sites were too difficult to access due to fighting, but OPCW reported that chemical weapon production equipment was moved to other sites they did inspect. According to recent press reports, the Syrians have declared roughly 1,290 tons of chemical weapons inside Syria. As one ton equals 2,000 pounds, this means there are roughly 2,580,000 pounds of chemical weapons inside Syria.

As for the tragic refugee crisis plaguing the country, recent reports indicate that 7 million Syrians have been displaced since 2011. Millions of Syrians have been displaced within the country, and millions more have fled Syria for neighboring countries. Al Jazeera America showed us how the number of displaced Syrians compares to the U.S. population: If all of Syria's displaced citizens moved to New York, they would fill all of Manhattan and the surrounding area, as can be seen on this map. Of these displaced persons, 5 million are reportedly displaced within the country itself and 2 million have been displaced outside the country.

Just this week, former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is now president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, tweeted out another compelling interactive graphic that helps you get a sense of the number of Syrian refugees who have resettled inside Europe.

It is hard to conceptualize just how many people are being impacted by the crisis. It is also hard to grasp how many chemical weapons need to be moved out of the country or destroyed in the upcoming months.  

Here are some ways to think about the numbers that are easier to grasp.

1. Syria's chemical weapons weigh as much as all the McDonald's hamburgers the world eats in a single day

To give you a sense of just how much 1,290 tons of chemical weapons weigh, let’s put this in simpler terms. According to Business Insider, about 1 billion pounds of beef are consumed at McDonald’s in a year, which means about 2,739,726 million pounds of McDonald's beef are consumed every day. So, Syria's chemical weapons weigh about as much as all the Big Macs the world stuffs in its face each day. That's millions upon millions of quarter pounders-worth of chemical weapons that need to be safely removed from Syria, or destroyed. 

2. Inspectors need to get rid of 21,500 Carrie Mathisons-worth of chemical weapons


For those of you who are fans of Homeland (me included), let’s put these figures in terms of Carrie Mathison. Clarie Danes, who plays Carrie, weighs roughly 120 pounds. So, approximately 21,500 Carrie Mathisons worth of chemical weapons need to be removed from Syria. That's a lot of secret agents (no pun intended). It's a fitting comparison since Danes is set to host the concert at which the OPCW will receive the Nobel Peace Prize  

3. Jordan refugee camp residents could replace the population of West Palm Beach, Fla.

There are more than 100,000 Syrians taking refuge in Jordan’s Zaatari camp — and that's just one of many refugee camps in Jordan. To put this in perspective, the population of the Zaatari camp is approximately the size of the population of West Palm Beach, Florida (101,903) and Burbank, California (104,391). This number is also comparable to the number of Syrians who have been killed during the two-year crisis. And with winter coming in Syria, the situation will probably become worse in the near future.

4. And Central Park and the NSA could both comfortably fit inside Jordan's largest camp

Central Park website

The Zaatari refugee camp is about 1,310 acres in size. That's really, really big: BOTH New York's Central Park (800 acres) and the NSA's complex (350 acres) could fit inside Zaatari, with room for about 120 football fields.