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Suffering in Syria and Iraq have reached unprecedented levels
by International Committee of the Red Cross, agencies
11:25am 7th Jul, 2016
June 2017
A report just released by the ICRC estimates that fifty million people currently bear the brunt of war in cities around the world.
As the world urbanises, so too does its conflicts; city centers and residential areas are being turned into battlefields and frontlines.
In an attempt to shed light on the devastating human toll of this type of conflict The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has released a special report: ''I saw my city die: voices from the front lines of urban conflict in Iraq, Syria and Yemen''.
The report which includes an immersive microsite examines the effects on civilians caught up in these conflicts through their first-hand accounts. And the findings are disturbing.
The three conflicts in the report - Iraq, Syria and Yemen - account for around half of all conflict-related casualties worldwide between 2010 and 2015.
Some 17.5 million people have fled their homes, creating the largest global refugee and migration crisis since World War II. 11.5 million people - more than three people per minute - have fled their homes in Syria alone, since the start of the war.
It is not only lives and homes that are destroyed in these conflicts. The increasing use of explosive weapons that have wide impact areas, decimate the complex systems of services such as electricity, water, sanitation, garbage collection and health-care that civilians rely on to survive, making an eventual return to these cities even harder for those who have fled.
"The majority of people had very little choice and felt it was best to leave," said Marianne Gasser, Head of ICRC''s Delegation in Syria. "Their houses were turned to rubble; there was very little food and no water or electricity. Not to mention the violence they had been witnessing for so long; no one could be expected to endure such suffering."
Explosive weapons account for an estimated 92% of deaths or injuries.
The report also shows that employing sieges against civilian populations is on the rise.
In 2016, eastern Aleppo was subjected to a siege that lasted 190 days. In the cities of Foua, Kefraya and Madaya 60,000 civilians were trapped. The deliberate obstruction of humanitarian assistance caused immense suffering among the population.
It''s a similar story in Taiz, Yemen. Civilians there endured a 15-month long siege. Some 200,000 people were trapped, surrounded by snipers, landmines and suffering under relentless and indiscriminate shelling.
"People were eating from the garbage because they couldn''t get food. We saw women boiling tree leaves just to give children some hot soup" said Nancy Hamad, who ran the ICRC''s office in Taiz.
These conflicts also have devastating consequences for the psychological well-being of those caught in the midst of them.
Relentless day-and-night fighting and bombardment forces people to live in constant fear, shock and grief which often leads to traumatic stress that makes it near impossible for people to rebuild lives, hold down jobs or break out of cycles of violence, states the report.
"I just want to be alright. It''s hard to be ''okay'' when you''ve seen so much," said Sami, a 29-year old who is featured in the report and currently living in Beirut after being forced to flee Aleppo.
The report makes 10 key recommendations to all parties that are either directly or indirectly involved in these conflicts; all of which are intended to limit the impact of urban warfare by reducing suffering and addressing the urgent needs of civilians.
The recommendations urge strict adherence to international humanitarian law which include among others the cessation of sieges as tactics of war, protecting civilians and civilian infrastructure and allowing access to humanitarian aid. But it is the human stories that resonate most deeply.
"I saw my city die, I saw my people perish. I saw myself break. I don''t know if I''ll ever be okay, but I want to be" said Sami.
* Access the report:
Dec. 2016
2017 Humanitarian Needs in Syria Overview.
As the Syria crisis enters its sixth year, civilians continue to bear the brunt of a conflict marked by unparalleled suffering, destruction and disregard for human life. 13.5 million people require humanitarian assistance, including 4.9 million people in need trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, where they are exposed to grave protection threats.
Over half of the population has been forced from their homes, and many people have been displaced multiple times. Children and youth, millions of whom have known nothing but conflict, comprise more than half of the displaced, as well as half of those in need of humanitarian assistance. Parties to the conflict act with impunity, committing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Syria is the largest protection crisis of our time. Since the onset of the conflict in 2011, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Some 30,000 people suffer conflict-related trauma injuries every month, roughly 30 per cent of whom develop permanent disabilities. Parties to the conflict repeatedly breach international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).
In some instances, attacks appear to directly target civilians and civilian infrastructure, are indiscriminate, or breach other IHL rules protecting civilians.
Tens of thousands of Syrians are missing since the conflict began, thousands in circumstances suggesting forcible displacement. Others have been subject to torture and other forms of ill treatment in detention.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and affiliated groups use suicide bombs in civilian areas outside its control, while in ISIL areas of influence, public beheadings, physical mutilation, the sexual enslavement of women and girls, indoctrination and forced recruitment of children continue unabated.
Persistent and extreme violence, forced displacement, family separation, lack of civil documentation, and an increase in poverty, further limiting coping mechanisms, have extended the scope and severity of protection threats faced by people in Syria.
Mass conflict-induced displacement has led to significant demographic change within Syria. In addition to some 4.8 million people registered as refugees in neighbouring countries, 6.3 million people are displaced within Syria itself.
Meanwhile the rate of displacement continues unabated. On average, 6,150 people were displaced per day between January and August 2016. Over one million displaced people live in collective shelters, camps or makeshift settlements as the option of last resort.
Among conflict-affected communities, life-threatening needs continue to grow. Neighbouring countries have restricted the admission of people fleeing Syria, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded in deplorable conditions on their borders. In some cases, these populations are beyond the reach of humanitarian actors.
Their lives and livelihoods shattered by almost six years of conflict, many people in Syria endure a struggle for survival. For millions of people, coping strategies have been exhausted, stretching their resourcefulness to its absolute limit.
An estimated 69 per cent of people now live in extreme poverty, supporting their families on less than US$2 per day, of which an estimated 35 per cent live in abject poverty, characterized by severe deprivation of the basic food required to survive.
Access to essential services, including health care, safe water, and education, has been severely disrupted. Families are resorting to unsustainable and unsafe means of survival, including forced and/or early marriage, child labour, child recruitment, survival sex, and temporary marriages.
* UNOCHA 2017 Humanitarian Needs in Syria Overview (60 page):
December 2016
At a UN General Assembly meeting 122 countries expressed “outrage” at the ongoing violence in Syria, particularly war-battered Aleppo, adopting a resolution demanding an immediate and complete end to all attacks on civilians as well as an end to all sieges in the war-ravaged country. They expressed grave concern at the continued deterioration of the devastating humanitarian situation in the country and demanded “rapid, safe, sustained, unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access throughout the country for UN agencies and all humanitarian actors”:
December 2016
Global Civil Society Appeal to UN Member States protect the millions of civilians in Syria by 223 civil society organizations.
The UN Security Council has failed Syrians. In almost six years of conflict, close to half a million people have been killed and eleven million have been forced to leave their homes.
Most recently, the Syrian and Russian governments and their allies have carried out unlawful attacks on eastern Aleppo with scant regard for some 250,000 civilians trapped there. Armed opposition groups have also fired mortars and other projectiles into civilian neighbourhoods of western Aleppo, though according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “indiscriminate airstrikes across the eastern part of the city by Government forces and their allies are responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties.” Efforts to stop these atrocities and hold those responsible to account have been blocked repeatedly by Russia, which continues to misuse its veto power in the Security Council.
The UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has warned that the UN must not allow “another Srebrenica, another Rwanda, which we are sadly ready to recognize written on that wall in front of us, unless something takes place.” Yet, there is no sign that the Security Council deadlock will end anytime soon. The guardian of international peace and security has failed to fulfill its task under the UN Charter and has failed to uphold its responsibility to protect the Syrian people.
This is why we, a global coalition of 223 civil society organizations, urgently call upon UN member states to step in and request an Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly to demand an end to all unlawful attacks in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, and immediate and unhindered humanitarian access so that life-saving aid can reach all those in need. Member states should also explore possible avenues to bring perpetrators of serious crimes under international law on all sides to justice.
We strongly urge all Member States to join the 73 countries from all regions by endorsing their initiative. These countries should work toward an Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly at the earliest opportunity, as UN member states have done in the past when the Security Council was deadlocked.
We call in particular upon the 112 supporters of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Code of Conduct, which includes a pledge to support “timely and decisive action” aimed at preventing or ending the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, to join this effort and actively promote meaningful action through the UN General Assembly.
Inaction should not be an option. UN member states should use all the diplomatic tools at their disposal to stop the atrocities and protect the millions of civilians in Syria. History will judge harshly those that fail to step up.
* 223 civil society organizations including the Association for Aid and Relief Japan, Concern Worldwide, ActionAid, Human Appeal International, Amnesty International, GOAL, International Court of Justice, War Child UK, Norwegian Church Aid, Norwegian Refugee Council, CARE, Christian Aid, Mercy Corps, Human Rights Watch, People in Need, Solidarités International, Physicians for Human Rights, Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, Qatar Red Crescent Society, Save the Children, World Vision, Dorcas Aid International, IHH, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, SUDO (UK), Bihar Relief Organization, Syrian Network for Human Rights, Syrian American Medical Society Foundation, Syrian Institute for Justice (JUSTICE).
10 November 2016
“The fifth war winter is starting in Syria. There is no doubt it will be the worst in this cruel war, and I fear it will be a real killer in too many places,” Jan Egeland, Special Advisor to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, told reporters in Geneva.
“Some of the areas are freezing cold, horrible conditions, and people will be in need of digging themselves down in the ground in extreme cases,” he said, explaining that humanitarian convoys are being blocked physically or administratively from reaching them, or they cannot depart because of crossfire or insecurity.
“I have not seen a place where there has been so much politicization, manipulation of aid, as we have seen in Syria in recent months. It has to stop,” he said.
November 2016
Half a million children live under siege in Syria
As violence continues to escalate across Syria, the number of children living under siege has doubled in less than one year. Nearly 500,000 children now live in 16 besieged areas across the country, almost completely cut off from sustained humanitarian aid and basic services.
“For millions of human beings in Syria, life has become an endless nightmare – in particular for the hundreds of thousands of children living under siege. Children are being killed and injured, too afraid to go to school or even play, surviving with little food and hardly any medicine,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director. “This is no way to live – and too many are dying.”
Some communities have received little to no aid in nearly two years.
As the conflict nears six years, UNICEF renews its call on all parties to lift the sieges across Syria, and to allow and facilitate immediate, unconditional and sustained humanitarian access to all areas across the country.
Nov 2016
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien Statement on the Situation in Aleppo, Syria
I am extremely concerned about the fate of civilians as a result of the deeply alarming and chilling situation unfolding in Aleppo city.
Intensified ground fighting and indiscriminate aerial bombardment over the past few days in eastern Aleppo city has reportedly killed and injured scores of civilians. There are no functioning hospitals left, and official food stocks are practically finished in eastern Aleppo.
At the same time, indiscriminate shelling continues on civilian-populated areas and civilian infrastructure in western Aleppo, killing and injuring civilians. Civilian infrastructure continues to be purposefully destroyed across Aleppo.
The intensity of attacks on eastern Aleppo neighbourhoods over the past few days has forced thousands of civilians to flee to other parts of the city.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and local NGO partners have initiated a response to those displaced. The UN is also present on the ground with prepositioned supplies to complement the on-going response and ready to provide immediate assistance and medical evacuations for civilians inside eastern Aleppo.
The parties to the conflict in Syria have shown time and again that they are willing to take any action to secure military advantage even if it means killing, maiming or starving civilians into submission in the process.
While the world is watching events in Aleppo, another 700,000 people are in other besieged areas across the country. In these areas – as in eastern Aleppo – there is no protection and little access to life-saving items. People in these besieged areas are trapped, terrified and running out of time.
I ask all parties to the conflict to restore basic humanity in Syria. I call on them to lift sieges, ensure that they do not target civilians and civilian infrastructure, and that they allow humanitarian organizations safe and unimpeded access to bring life-saving help to those displaced or under siege.
I remind the parties that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary and in accordance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. It is also imperative that all those displaced are allowed to return voluntarily, in safety and in dignity, to their homes as soon as the situation allows it.
The people of Syria have suffered far too much and for far too long. More than anything, I hope a path towards a political solution can be found soon so that we can give some semblance of hope to the many millions of Syrian families who tonight are hungry, sick, and fearing for their lives.
Sep 2016
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, says that levels of suffering in Syria and Iraq have reached unprecedented levels:
These are troubled times. Particularly for the people of Syria and Iraq. The suffering has reached unprecedented levels. Hundreds of thousands killed. Millions on the move. Families torn apart.
Even as Ramadan comes to an end, many, many ordinary people are living in abject fear and terrifying uncertainty. A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding. And, make no mistake, the situation is getting worse. For everyone.
At times like this, leaders with vision and courage are needed. Leaders who recognise the common humanity in all of us. Who, above all else, show a respect for human dignity – the fundamental value that is common to all of mankind.
The people need leaders who believe in humanity. Who protect, homes, schools and hospitals. Who protect civilians and treat people they capture with respect. Who allow and facilitate neutral and impartial humanitarian help for those in need.
All parties to armed conflict – and I mean ‘all parties’ – are bound by these norms and customs of war. Because they are the basis of our common humanity.
Red Cross and Red Crescent staff work in these conflict areas, in the name of this common humanity. They’re there to save lives; to help people. No matter what side they are on. Impartially. And neutrally.
We’ve helped provide clean drinking water and improved sanitation for more than 6 million Syrians.
We’ve provided - this year alone - food and basic aid for nearly five million people In Iraq, we’ve delivered food, drinking water, and medical assistance to more than a million people.
We stand ready to talk to anyone - or to act as an intermediary - so that more help, more assistance, can be delivered. And more people protected from violence.
When the guns fall silent - and they will do one day – it’ll be that common respect for human dignity that will provide a way forward. And the chance for the healing process to begin.
18 August 2016
Not one single convoy reached besieged Syrians this month, says UN envoy. (DW)
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said no aid convoys have reached besieged cities in Syria. New fighting in the five-year war has impeded aid convoys to the more than 590,000 people living in besieged cities and towns. De Mistura said convoys had not reached any besieged areas of Syria in August and that Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya had had no aid for 110 days.
"Not one single convoy in one month has reached any of the humanitarian besieged areas," de Mistura told reporters. "Not one single convoy."
The European Union, has called for the "immediate halt" to all fighting in Aleppo. The photo of a 5-year-old boy pulled from the rubble of an airstrike has drawn the world''s attention back to the plight of those living in the Syrian city.
Aleppo, split into rebel and government-controlled areas, has become the current focal point of the Syrian war. In the city, up to 2 million people on both sides lack access to clean water after bombing runs, conducted mostly by Russia and the Syrian regime.
The only UN aid to reach Syria this month has come in the form of World Food Program airdrops to Deir El-Zour, de Mistura said.
"I decided to use my privilege as chair to declare that there was no sense to have a humanitarian meeting today unless we got some action on the humanitarian side in Syria," de Mistura said. "What we are hearing and seeing is only fighting, offensives, counteroffensives, rockets, barrel bombs, mortars, hellfire cannons, napalm, chlorine, snipers, airstrikes, suicide bombers."
Mr De Mistura said he planned to reconvene the humanitarian task force next week to Syria''s conflict, which has left over 400,000 people dead.
9 August 2016
“Up to two million people in Syria''s Aleppo have gone without running water for the past four days, the United Nations warned this week, describing the situation as "catastrophic".
‘Children and families in Aleppo are facing a catastrophic situation,’ Hanaa Singer, UNICEF''s representative in Syria, said. ‘These cuts are coming amid a heatwave, putting children at a grave risk of waterborne diseases," she said, stressing that "getting clean water running again cannot wait for the fighting to stop. Children''s lives are in serious danger.’
The United Nations warned that soaring temperatures and dwindling medical supplies are deepening the woes of some two million people trapped by fighting in and around Aleppo, calling for an immediate halt to the hostilities and, at a minimum, a humanitarian pause so the city’s heavily damaged water and electrical systems can be repaired.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told reporters that the fighting is “raging” in Syria’s second city where two million people live.
“I told the Security Council that we are gravely concerned for the safety, health and protection of those terrified civilians. They are counting on us to deliver assistance and end their suffering,” he stressed, pointing out that meanwhile, the targeting of hospitals and clinics continues unabated, seriously jeopardizing the health and welfare of all citizens.
“I reminded the Security Council that United Nations agencies and our partners remain ready to assist the civilian population across Aleppo. We have supplies ready with: food rations, hospital supplies, ambulances, fuel for generators, water supplies and more,” said Mr. O’Brien, adding that the UN and its partners would continue to use all available routes and mechanisms in that regard.
“We can deliver these within 24-48 hours if we have safe access,” he emphasized, reiterating his call for a fully-fledged ceasefire to reach millions of people in need, “safely, unimpeded and without further delay.”
“Fighting must stop everywhere. People, are suffering across the country. Politics must be put aside. We must do our duty as fellow human beings, through the privilege we have of serving people under the United Nations flag, to help all those who are now in dire straits.”
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) echoed the relief chief’s call for a humanitarian pause, saying that while aid agencies are scaling up the emergency response to bring safe drinking water to civilians in the city, urgent repairs to electricity infrastructure are critical as pumping water is the only way to meet the needs of the city’s two million residents.
“Getting clean water running again cannot wait for the fighting to stop. Children’s lives are in serious danger,” said Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Representative in Syria.
Tarik Jasarevic, spokesperson for the UN World Health Organization (WHO), added that the agency’s regional office reports that according to eastern Aleppo City local health authorities, eight out of 10 hospitals and 13 out of 28 primary healthcare centres are now partially functional or completely out of service as a result of the fighting.
July 2016
Statement is attributable to Yacoub El Hillo, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria and Kevin Kennedy, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis
Damascus/Amman, 13 July 2016-- The United Nations is deeply alarmed by the escalating violence in and around Aleppo city putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of death and injury. Since 7 July, heavy clashes between the Government of Syria forces and non-state armed groups have rendered the Castello road, the last remaining access road in and out of eastern Aleppo city, impassable. Government and Kurdish forces have since then reportedly gained control of the majority of Castello road, cutting off humanitarian, commercial and civilian movement in and out of eastern Aleppo city, and putting an estimated 200,000-300,000 people closer to the line of fire and at risk of besiegement.
While it is difficult to collect information on eastern Aleppo due to access restrictions, it is among the areas hardest hit by conflict with most people heavily dependent on humanitarian assistance. Government forces also reportedly intensified airstrikes on areas in rural Aleppo, killing at least 19 people in the town of Ibeen and seven people in the town of Shantra on 10 July.
Furthermore, hundreds of mortars and projectiles were launched on western Aleppo in the past week. From 8 to 11 July, 57 people were reportedly killed including 15 children and 497 were injured. Explosive anti-aircraft projectiles straying into several neighborhoods continue to pose a threat to civilians.
Humanitarian needs must be immediately addressed, including through re-establishing medical evacuations from east Aleppo. The UN and partners in east Aleppo have enough food supplies for 145,000 people for one month, and are urgently working on a response to meet increasing needs.
The UN deplores the spread of hostilities throughout Aleppo and call on all parties to the conflict to end indiscriminate attack on civilians and to fully respect international humanitarian law.
The UN further calls on all parties to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance, as required under Security Council Resolutions 2139, 2165, 2191, and 2258, as well enable the rapid, safe and unhindered evacuation of civilians who wish to leave.
The UN continues to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to the 5.47 million Syrian men, women and children in hard-to-reach locations, including close to 600,000 in 18 besieged locations.
Iraq: Hundreds of thousands more risk displacement sparking fresh humanitarian crisis. (Amnesty International)
Increased humanitarian assistance is urgently required to alleviate the suffering of millions of Iraqis displaced across the country and to provide basic services to hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to be displaced by military operations to recapture territory controlled by the group calling itself Islamic State (IS), said Amnesty International following a three-week research trip to the country.
Humanitarian organizations have already been struggling to meet the most basic needs of the more than 3.4 million people who have been forced to flee IS rule and ongoing fighting to recapture IS territory. The impending battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and an IS stronghold, is expected to displace hundreds of thousands more in the coming months.
“Unless humanitarian aid is adequately funded, planned for and implemented, the potential influx of hundreds of thousands more displaced people fleeing the fighting and horrific abuses under IS control will push Iraq past breaking point with devastating consequences,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor who is leading the research mission to Iraq.
“We have witnessed how the vast majority of displaced people in camps or living in unfinished building sites across the country already have little or no access to basic necessities and medical care. The Iraqi authorities’ response to displaced people has been insufficient and much of the world has largely ignored their plight.”
World leaders must urgently step up their funding for humanitarian assistance to those displaced civilians, some of whom were forced to flee due to the military operations supported by the international community,” said Donatella Rovera.
“Additional international funding is desperately needed to meet the basic needs of the millions already displaced and prepare for further mass displacement from military operations.”
UN agencies have reported a shortfall of 53% of the funding needed to meet their crisis response plan for 2016.
July 2016
Violence Destroys Childhoods in Iraq. (Unicef)
3.6 million children in Iraq – one in five in the country - are at serious risk of death, injury, sexual violence, abduction and recruitment into armed groups, according to a new UNICEF report.
A Heavy Price for Children reveals that the number of children in danger of these violations has increased by 1.3 million in 18 months.
The findings show that 4.7 million children need humanitarian aid – a third of all Iraqi children – while many families now face deteriorating conditions following military operations in Fallujah and around Mosul.
“Children in Iraq are in the firing line and are being repeatedly and relentlessly targeted,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Iraq Representative. “We appeal to all parties for restraint and to respect and protect children. We must help give children the support they need to recover from the horrors of war and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq.”
UNICEF’s report documents the scale and complexity of the humanitarian crisis in a country reeling from nearly four decades of conflict, insecurity and neglect, and where the impact on children worsens every day.
At least 1,496 children have been abducted in the country over the past two and a half years. That translates to 50 children abducted each month, with many forced into fighting or sexually abused.
“The kidnapping of children from their homes, their schools and from the streets is horrifying”, said Hawkins. “These children are being ripped from their families and are subjected to sickening abuses and exploitation.”
The report also shows that almost ten per cent of Iraqi children – more than 1.5 million – have been forced to flee their homes because of violence since the beginning of 2014, often multiple times. Nearly one in five schools is out of use due to conflict and almost 3.5 million children of school-age are missing out on an education.
UNICEF is calling for urgent action to protect children’s rights in Iraq. There are five concrete steps that need to be taken immediately:
End the killing, maiming, abduction, torture, detention, sexual violence and recruitment of children. Stop attacks on schools, medical facilities and personnel.
Provide unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access to all children wherever they are in the country, including areas not under control of the government. In areas with ongoing conflict, civilians wishing to leave must be given safe passage and receive the services they need.
Expand and improve education for out of school children through catch up classes. Increase access to learning and equip teachers and children with educational materials and training. These are the children who will rebuild Iraq and contribute to a more peaceful and stable future.
Provide psychological and recreation programmes to help children heal and to reconnect with their childhoods.
Increase funding, as resources are running short, already leading to cut backs in life-saving support for children. UNICEF is seeking US$ 100 million for its response in Iraq for 2016.

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