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Syria’s Civil War Has Cut Life Expectancy By 20 Years, A U.N.-Backed Report Says

The country’s civil war enters its fifth year this month, and life for those on the ground is looking increasingly bleak.

Posted on March 11, 2015, at 12:02 p.m. ET

Syria’s civil war marks its fourth anniversary this month. The multi-sided conflict has drawn in countries ranging from Syria’s Middle Eastern neighbors to the U.S. and Russia, and has provided fertile ground for the Islamist group ISIS.

Bassam Khabieh / Reuters

A girl walks amongst damaged buildings in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus on March 4.

A new U.N.-backed report paints a pretty bleak picture of what life’s like on the ground, as the war enters its fifth year. The most shocking finding is that life expectancy in Syria dropped from 76 years in 2010 to an estimated 56 years in 2014.

Bassam Khabieh / Reuters

A boy carries bread as he makes his way through the Douma neighborhood of Damascus on March 4.

Syria's population has shrunk from 20.9 million to 17.6 million during that time as people have fled overseas or been killed, the report says. The country is now the world's biggest source of refugees, The Economist has said.

#Dailychart: Syria has overtaken Afghanistan to become the world's biggest source of refugees

Over half of Syria's pre-war population have fled their homes during the conflict, according to the report, carried out by the Syrian Center for Policy Research with support from the U.N. The bulk of that group have remained displaced within Syria. Around 200,000 people have died in the conflict so far.

Around 1 in 3 Syrians need food aid just to meet their basic needs, the report says.

Abdalrhman Ismail / Reuters

Rebel fighters receive food aid in the old city of Aleppo on Dec. 30.

And 1 in 2 children no longer go to school.

Uncredited / AP

Displaced Syrian children in a school that has been turned into a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Damascus in Feb. 23.

Syria's civil war began when President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on protesters demanding his departure in 2011. It's now a messy and multi-layered conflict involving Assad's regime and whole host of different armed groups.

The UN's special envoy to Syria recently saidthat the top priority must be at least temporarily stemming the violence that's making life so hellish for civilians. Seeking a longer-term political solution to Syria's conflict could then come later, Staffan de Mistura said at a talk last week at the U.K. think tank Chatham House.

Mistura has therefore advocated a "freeze" – a six-week halt in attacks but not a full cease-fire – in the city of Aleppo, and Assad has agreed to halt aerial attacks there. However, this might not be much of a breakthrough, as previous local cease-fires have not done much to reduce Syrians' suffering, this article in Foreign Policy argues.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.