Not being a Bible reader I can only take my information from Wikipedia-style hearsay. So, apparently, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were originally in the Book of Revelation named as Conquest, War, Famine and Death. But somewhere along the way, described as ‘in popular culture’ Conquest became Pestilence.  We only need to look at Syria to understand why. One of the first victims of war is a country’s heath service.

News that an outbreak of Polio, mainly in children, is not only developing in Syria, but that is also at risk of affecting the countries that are being swamped by its refugees, like Turkey and Jordan, is not a surprise. Other illnesses are also emerging, and the health system is simply collapsing, not only by the disruption in supplies, the bombings, the killings, the flight of professionals together with everybody else, but also by whatever little of the system is left having to deal with the wounds, the burns, the toxicity of modern warfare. We don’t call these new wars nuclear but they leave radioactive debris with their depleted uranium weapons, we don’t call them chemical (OK, this one qualifies) but they spread toxic components by bombing chemical plants, and we don’t call them bacteriological but they create epidemics by destroying the health infrastructure.

Iraq and Syria, 10 years apart. Have we learned anything? Perhaps, yes. The rhetoric of ‘going in’ to defend ‘people’s rights’ didn’t work this time, it was stopped in its tracks in the British parliament, the same venue where Iraq was sanctioned in spite of the millions of people on the streets in 2003. It then dominoed to other countries, with the most determined to go in, the US and France, deciding it would also be good to consult their Parliaments, or the UN, or listen to the population, and then the Russians became creative when faced with the American ‘red line’ of chemical warfare and proposed dismantling Syria’s arsenal.

The conventional weapons that killed already more than 120.000 people continue to pour in. But many international organisations are demanding an arms embargo. The Geneva 2 talks are being hailed as a failure before they have even started, but in fact they have already begun precisely because of the discussions that are taking place behind closed doors with all the interested parties.

Meanwhile, the end of Assad’s term in office approaches quietly. Syria is due for elections in February. Would it kill them to call for a ceasefire and wait for the elections? Apparently yes, or in other words, regime change is not enough. It seems that riding the four horsemen in to leave Syria in an Iraq/Libya-like mess is more important.

In spite of the bleakness of the situation, the millions of displaced refugees, the dead and the ill and the wounded, a glimmer of hope can be perceived, public opinion is clearly against war and that is having some effect. The demos, the millions of messages from social media, the petitions, the letters to MPs, they are all having some effect, and they have a chance to influence the outcome. Please keep them coming.