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Syria: Escalation in hostilities and severe winter weather exacerbate suffering

22-12-2013 Operational Update

As cold descends upon Syria, the ICRC is doing what it can to help millions of people despite the escalating violence, worsening security conditions and limited humanitarian access.

Taken in the neighbourhood of Damascus, December 13.© Reuters/Bassam Khabieh.

Alarmed by the high number of civilian casualties reported in Aleppo, the ICRC on December 20 called on all parties to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law. Record cold temperatures are also causing further misery for millions of displaced people inside Syria and for refugees across the region. "The death toll is mounting. Over one-hundred civilians have been killed in Aleppo in recent days, at least half a million people have been wounded across the country and millions remain displaced and tens of thousands detained. Supplies of food and other basic necessities are running dangerously short, especially in besieged areas," said Magne Barth, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria. "Nevertheless, despite the extreme urgency of the situation, it remains extremely difficult to bring relief to people in Syria."

"We welcome recent statements by the Syrian authorities that acknowledge the need for more humanitarian assistance for the victims of this conflict. We are hopeful that these statements will result in greater access being granted," he said. "However, our staff are still not allowed to enter besieged areas to deliver aid, including much-needed medical supplies, to all people in need whoever they may be."

To bring about any meaningful improvement in the situation, it will be necessary to permit the sick and the wounded to receive medical care wherever they are, to allow food and medical supplies into besieged areas and to authorize independent humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC to visit people held in connection with the conflict.

"Vast sections of the population, especially in areas directly affected by the fighting, including in eastern Aleppo, lack access to suitable health care," said Mr Barth. "The wounded are often not cared for properly and the chronically ill often do not receive the treatment they need."

Lack of security also seriously affects the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate in Syria. The death of 32 Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers since the beginning of the conflict and the abduction of three ICRC staff members by an armed group on 13 October in Idlib have made this tragically clear.

Despite these incidents, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC continue to work with local water boards to provide safe drinking water for over 20 million Syrians. In the last two months, ICRC water and sanitation engineers have taken action to ensure that over 1.5 million people living in Hama have access to clean tap water after fighting damaged the local water network. At the same time, ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent staff have delivered food to almost a million people in the country. In November alone, they provided food for over 125,000 people in the governorates of Raqqa, Latakia, Damascus, Daraa, Tartous, Hama, al Quneitra and Homs, and household essentials such as mattresses, blankets and kitchen utensils for another 37,500 people.

"The abduction of our colleagues forced us to restrict our movement in some areas," said Mr Barth. "But Syrians should not have to pay for that senseless act. That's why, as winter looms and woes mount, we are continuing to assist millions of people in need."

Water and habitat

In October and November, the ICRC:

  • provided clean drinking water for 1.5 million people after fighting damaged the main Homs-Hama pipeline;
  • helped dispose of rubbish in Idlib, improving sanitary conditions for over 100,000 people;
  • continued to provide insecticides to be sprayed in Aleppo, as part of a citywide effort to prevent the spread of leishmaniasis;
  • provided water boards across the country with technical expertise, equipment, and essential equipment and supplies such as pumps, generators and chlorine;
  • upgraded water, housing and sanitary facilities at 77 sites that host over 12,500 internally displaced persons;
  • delivered drinking water by truck to over 107,000 people in Homs, Rural Damascus and Deir Ezzor.

Food and household items

In October and November, the ICRC:

  • provided, through the Aleppo branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, over 3,500 pairs of winter underwear and over 7,000 pairs of socks for detainees held at Aleppo Central Prison;
  • provided food parcels for over 750,000 people in Damascus, Hama, Homs, Tartous, Lattakia, Sweida, Dara'a, Qounitra, Raqqa, Rural Damascus, Hassakeh, Idleb and Deir Ezzor;
  • provided mattresses and blankets for over 300,000 people in Damascus, Hama, Homs, Lattakia, Sweida, Rural Damascus, Dara'a, Qounitra, Tartous, Raqqa, Idleb and Deir Ezzor;
  • supplied cooking pots, plates, cups and cutlery for 97,500 people in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Lattakia, Tartous, Rural Damascus, Dara'a, Sweida, Qounitra, Raqqa and Deir Ezzor;
  • supplied shampoo, soap, detergents, female hygiene items and other hygiene products for over 195,000 people in Damascus, Homs, Hama. Lattakia, Sweida, Dara'a, Qounitra, Rural Damascus and Deir Ezzor.

Restoring contact between family members

In October and November, the ICRC:

  • submitted to the Syrian authorities 355 requests for information on persons allegedly arrested, after being approached by the families;
  • facilitated the crossing of 22 students between the occupied Golan and other parts of Syria.

For further information, please contact:
Simon Schorno, ICRC Damascus, tel: +963 993700847
Wolde-Gabriel Saugeron, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 244 64 05