Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force answers questions about the Syria Watch mobile app.
Built as a volunteer effort by Metova, Syria Watch provides real-time notifications, detail and location of attacks launched in Syria, helping people outside of Syria understand the ongoing danger people in Syria experience daily – while giving people in Syria real-time useful information on military operations and threats.
What is the Syria Watch app and who can use it?
The Syria Watch app is a tool to allow people around the world to know, right away, when civilians are attacked in Syria. We want the general public, journalists, policy makers, and activists to be able to imagine themselves in the shoes of the Syrian people who are regularly targeted by the Assad regime, Russian air force, and Iranian militias.
Is this useful for people in Syria on the ground in the middle of this?
This app is primarily a tool to raise awareness and help advocate for the prevention of atrocities in Syria. Nevertheless, it can be a potentially useful tool for people living in Syria to be aware of military operations.
Where is the information that Syria Watch lists come from?
An established network on the ground across Syria regularly reports to the app administrators attacks as they occur. In addition, the team at SETF is constantly monitoring any civilian attacks through open source media and partner organizations on the ground.
How current is the information that is presented?
Alerts are posted within 24 hours of each attack, depending on how fast we obtain the information. We are often able to post within minutes of an attack, but it can take up to 24 hours because we have to verify each notification before posting.
What do the event categories of each post mean? (i.e. Fixed Wing, Barrel Bomb, Artillery, Land)
- Fixed wing aircrafts are military planes of the Assad regime and the Russian air force that often target schools, bakeries, and hospitals, as well as residential areas. These military aircrafts include the Russian Sukhois and Russian MiGs utilizing cluster munitions, missiles, and other conventional and banned weapons.
- Barrel Bombs are giant barrels filled with shrapnel and explosives that are utilized against civilian areas causing mass casualties and displacement. These are dumb bombs that are simply dropped from regime helicopters.
- Artillery shelling from Iranian backed militias and Assad regime forces include ground to ground shelling of civilian areas and the villages near the front lines of Assad regime troop movements.
- Assad regime, Russia, Iranian militias movements into civilian areas that cause displacement, detention, and extrajudicial executions, as well as the looting and destruction of property.
- Chemical attacks perpetrated by the Assad regime military include the use of chlorine gas and the chemical agent, sarin, causing death of civilians and animals in the proximity of the attacks.
What do the different ‘levels’ of the alerts signify? (i.e. Medium, High, Critical)
Medium threat includes air activity or troop activity where there is potential for military strikes. It also includes shelling that is nearby civilian areas that do not result in casualties or injuries.
High includes troop movements on the outskirts of towns or villages. Additionally, it includes limited air strikes and shelling that are targeting the vicinity of civilian areas. Includes injuries but no loss of life.
Critical Direct attacks against heavily populated areas as well as the targeting of schools, hospitals, and markets. All chemical weapons strikes are critical. Troop movements into civilian populated areas that result in detention or displacement. In critical threats, there are often a large number of casualties and civilian deaths.
What will those who are not intimately familiar with the conflicts in Syria discover through this app?
People will be able to identify and relate to fellow human beings who are constantly subjected to terrible atrocities. People will also learn more about the escalating violence in Syria and the need for civilian protection and an end to the killing. Finally, people who have been following the situation on the ground or who support humanitarian initiatives on the ground, like the Wisdom House school for orphans or Tomorrow’s Dawn women’s center, will be able to be updated on the security situation on the ground and the welfare of their friends and beneficiaries in Syria.
This app will also be useful to help policy makers focusing on the situation in Syria to better understand the challenges for civilians. Journalists will also be able to quickly learn of attacks against civilians which will hopefully encourage greater coverage of humanitarian atrocities in Syria. The main function will be to raise awareness and affect change by calling for civilian protection in war-torn Syria.
What can people do now if they want to help in Syria?
Go to the syriantaskforce.org website and thewisdomhouseproject.com school for orphans website to learn more about the humanitarian situation and what they can do to help. There are multiple initiatives where you can write a letter, you can contact congressmen to ask for the protection of civilians, or get involved.
How did you come to work with Metova to build this app?
SETF has been working with the mission of protecting civilians in Syria since 2011. In the past four years, we realized that people here are mostly unaware of the suffering of Syrian civilians. Supporting communities in the U.S. also wanted a tool to know quickly of security threats to the Syrian civilian civilians that they support. We thought it would be powerful to have an app that would allow people here to identify with Syrians by receiving a notification every time civilians in Syria are targeted and have to seek shelter. SETF began asking through its networks and supportive community if there was a company who would be able to help us bring this vision to life. With the leadership of Metova which not only provided expertise, and professionalism, but showed great sympathy for civilians in Syria and on a pro-bono basis was able to support our humanitarian work and make this app a reality. Metova’s staff and leadership worked with us to ensure that the app met our objective of an easy to use awareness-raising tool and they have exceeded our expectations when it came to the final product. We thank Metova for their humanitarianism and expertise.
How can technology help people in Syria?
Technology can help people in Syria in many different ways including:
- Giving Syrian civilians a platform to have their voices heard by the international community
- Providing early warning systems about potential attacks
- Helping schools and vocational centers provide education to displaced communities
- Allowing for direct communication between Syrian civilians and the outside world including humanitarian organizations, governments, and media.
The Syrian people want the world to know and care about their humanitarian situation. This app is one tool that helps raise awareness.
To learn more about the Syria Watch mobile app, read a case study HERE.