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Choosing hope in the midst of death

Newlywed Syrian couple Nada Merhi, 18, and Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a wedding picture amid heavily damaged buildings in the war-ravaged city of Homs on Feb. 5. (Joseph Eid/Agence France-Presse)The war in Syria has been in the news for so many years now that it is easy to become inoculated against the true gravity of the devastation that has been and continues to be wrought on its people. However, a recent report from the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) hopes to remind us of just how high the cost has risen.

The report found that 470,000 people have been fatally wounded while more than one in ten have either been either killed or injured since the conflict began almost five years ago. And those numbers are only expected to rise as the war continues to escalate with Aleppo, Syria's largest city, soon to be the site of the next great battle. As government forces, aided by Russian airstrikes and Iranian militia, creep ever closer to the city, 50,000 have already fled with more sure to follow in an effort to escape the seemingly inevitable confrontation.

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A 'clean toilet' for the world

Implementing these bad boys in the Kakuma Refugee camp!  (Safi Choo Toilet via Facebook)When is the last time you thanked God for your toilet? Given the amount of food typically consumed at Super Bowl parties, it might have been fairly recently. However, for nearly 2.6 billion people around the globe, a toilet is a luxury that they simply don't know. The lack of access to such toilets plays a key role on the proliferation of water, sanitation, and hygiene-related diseases that cost the lives of more than one million children each year. But 23-year-old Jasmine Burton, founder and president of Atlanta-based Wish for WASH, is trying to change all of that.

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Boko Haram burned kids alive, killed 86

Kenyan soldiers pay their respects to fallen comrades at an interfaith memorial service honoring Kenyan soldiers killed while on peacekeeping duty in Somalia, attended by Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, and Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, at a military barracks in Eldoret, Kenya Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. In Nigeria Buhari faces the Boko Haram extremist insurgency while Mohamud's government in Somalia relies on foreign troops including Kenya's to protect against the Islamic extremists al-Shabab. (AP Photo/John Muchucha)Boko Haram insurgents killed at least eighty-six people this weekend, including a number of children. Reports indicate that the attack happened on Saturday night, right after evening prayers. Taking place outside the northeastern city of Maiduguri, a soldier at the scene reported to the AP that three female suicide bombers blew themselves up as part of the assault.

A resident noted: "We had just finished evening prayers when the gunmen came to our village and indiscriminately opened fire and set fire to homes." As chaos ensued, "They detonated two bombs, which added to our fright and confusion. Everybody fled into the bush from where we saw our homes burning." It is reported that, as people were running away, the three suicide bombers were running in. Out in the cold bush with no blankets and exposed to the elements, frightened villagers wondered internally about their safety and listened externally as Nigerian officials tried to tamp down this latest attack by this terrorist group.

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U.S. official calls Putin 'a picture of corruption'

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks as he attends a Navy parade in Baltiisk, western Russia, during celebrations for Russian Navy Day, July 26, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Mikhail Klimentyev)Russian President Vladimir Putin has been a source of controversy in the West for quite some time now. However, that controversy has taken on a more substantive form in recent days. Last week, a British investigation into the murder of former Russian Federal Security Service agent Alexander Litvinenko found that Putin was likely aware of, if not responsible for, the decision to fatally poison the ex-spy back in 2006. And on Monday, the BBC released a story in which a U.S. treasury official, Adam Szubin, called the Russian President "a picture of corruption."

Szubin stated: "We've seen him enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalizing those who he doesn't view as friends using state assets. Whether that's Russia's energy wealth, whether it's other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don't."

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The worst and best of times

A Syrian family board a ferry traveling to Athens, at the port of Lesbos Island, Greece, an island of 100,000 residents that has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, September 7, 2015 (Credit: AP Photo/Santi Palacios)It is the worst of times in the Middle East.

Consider the horrific, brutal stories of war and terrorism happening in that part of the world. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights counts a minimum of 250,000 killed, 2 million wounded, and 11 million displaced from their homes since the start of the Syrian Civil war in 2011.  The Gulf War and resulting turmoil in Iraq also killed hundreds of thousands. Tens of thousands more have died in "Arab Spring" conflicts in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and other countries.

It is the best of times in the Middle East.

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