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

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

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.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Tara Maller

Tara Maller is a research fellow in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation. Her current areas of focus include sanctions, diplomacy, intelligence, cybersecurity, terrorism and women in security. Previously, she worked at BrightWire Inc. in New York, where she served as the managing editor and managing director of Operations, Americas. During her time at BrightWire, her primary responsibility was managing the media analyst team and providing editorial direction with regard to a wide range of global economic and political topics. In 2011, she received her Ph.D. in political science at MIT, where her dissertation focused on information collection, diplomacy and sanctions. During this time, she was an affiliate of MIT’s Security Studies Program and she served as research fellow in the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Previously, Maller worked as a military analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, focusing on the Iraq insurgency. She has published articles in The Washington Quarterly, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and PS: Political Science and Politics. She has also written for ForeignPolicy.com, CNN.com, BlogsofWar.com, Bloomberg View, Al Jazeera America, The Huffington Post, and has appeared as a commentator on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront, Bloomberg West, Bloomberg's Bottom Line, HuffPost Live and Al Jazeera America. She graduated with a B.A. in government from Dartmouth College and received a M.A. in international relations from the University of Chicago.

MORE FROM

‘New York Times’ interview sparks latest wave of GOP frustration with Trump

The President’s “disturbing” comments on Jeff Sessions and Special Counsel Robert Mueller drew sharp rebukes from his own party.

Jordan Edwards’ mother speaks out after Monday’s indictment of the officer who killed her son

“We will not allow Jordan’s death to be another statistic.”

Trump keeps saying he wants to “let Obamacare fail.” How would that happen?

There are several ways the administration could sabotage the law, experts said.

AIDS deaths are almost half of what they were in 2005 — but experts worry Trump could reverse that

Trump's proposed budget cuts could be detrimental for those living with HIV.

OJ Simpson granted parole after nine years in prison

After serving nine years in prison for a 2007 armed robbery, OJ Simpson was granted parole in a unanimous vote on Thursday.

Black Lives Matter activists respond to the police shooting of Justine Damond

“Some white people don’t feel the tragedy until one of them is murdered.”

‘New York Times’ interview sparks latest wave of GOP frustration with Trump

The President’s “disturbing” comments on Jeff Sessions and Special Counsel Robert Mueller drew sharp rebukes from his own party.

Jordan Edwards’ mother speaks out after Monday’s indictment of the officer who killed her son

“We will not allow Jordan’s death to be another statistic.”

Trump keeps saying he wants to “let Obamacare fail.” How would that happen?

There are several ways the administration could sabotage the law, experts said.

AIDS deaths are almost half of what they were in 2005 — but experts worry Trump could reverse that

Trump's proposed budget cuts could be detrimental for those living with HIV.

OJ Simpson granted parole after nine years in prison

After serving nine years in prison for a 2007 armed robbery, OJ Simpson was granted parole in a unanimous vote on Thursday.

Black Lives Matter activists respond to the police shooting of Justine Damond

“Some white people don’t feel the tragedy until one of them is murdered.”