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Syria: An endless humanitarian crisis


After 13 years of armed conflict, the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. Country Director Myriam Abord-Hugon paints a bleak picture.

An underwater clearance expert withdrawing a bomb from the Euphrates river in Raqqa. The level of contamination by explosive ordnances in Syria is unprecedented

An underwater clearance expert withdrawing a bomb from the Euphrates river in Raqqa. The level of contamination by explosive ordnances in Syria is unprecedented | © HI

Large-scale violence has subsided, but localised hostilities with regular air strikes continue and the effects of previous clashes are still being felt.

What is the current situation in Syria after 13 years of war?

After 13 years of armed violence, the humanitarian situation is terrible. Seventy percent of Syria’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance. Almost 7 million of the country’s 22 million inhabitants are still internally displaced and living in camps in appalling conditions. Since the start of the conflict in 2011, the United Nations official records show that over 300,000 Syrians have been killed, with the actual number of deaths is likely to be much higher.

Large-scale hostilities have subsided, but the conflict persists, with localised armed violence and bombing continuing to claim lives, primarily in the northern regions of the country where we have seen regular airstrikes by various armed parties in recent months. In fact, there has been a sharp escalation in violence since October in most parts of Syria.

What is the level of destruction in the country?

Homes, hospitals and schools have been completely destroyed making many places uninhabitable for civilians. Major cities like Raqqa, East Aleppo, Deraa, Homs and Eastern Ghouta have been devastated by bombing. For example, the Raqqa offensive in 2017 destroyed 80% of the city’s infrastructure. Seven years later, much of Raqqa still lies in ruins. Basic services such as health and education are difficult to find for most of the population. Only 60% of the country’s hospitals are still functioning.

Humanity & Inclusion has been committed to opposing the use of explosive weapons in populated areas for years. We led an international campaign called 'Stop Bombing Civilians' that resulted in the 2022 Dublin conference, where 83 states endorsed an international commitment to address the devastating humanitarian consequences caused by bombing and shelling in populated areas. There are now 84 states committed to this cause. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq were the catalysts for our 'Stop Bombing Civilians' campaign.

How has the prolonged conflict impacted the population, and people with disabilities in particular?

Due to the high number of injuries and the difficulties finding proper medical care, around 28 percent of the Syrian population—aged over 2—now suffers from a disability of some kind. The numbers are even higher in parts of northern Syria. Moreover, households are affected by price rises, drops in their income, energy shortages and many people are unable to meet their basic needs. Almost all Syrian have been affected by the war; all of them feel the impact of the conflict, with a general impoverishment of the population.

The COVID-19 pandemic, cholera, recurring outbreaks of diseases such as leishmaniosis, measles and meningitis, as well as malnutrition, are still the leading causes of mortality in Syria. The situation was already very difficult when the devastating earthquake struck North Syria in early 2023, causing yet more suffering, death and disabilities.

What is the extent of the contamination caused by bombing and shelling?

Explosive weapons have been widely used over the past 13 years, with the systematic and massive bombing and shelling of cities. The result is an incredibly high level of contamination posing a grave danger to civilians. 11.5 million people are currently living in areas contaminated by explosive ordnance. In 2022, there was an average of 76 recorded explosive accidents per day, equivalent to one every 20 minutes… Many areas remain contaminated with explosive remnants of war, improvised explosive devices, landmines, etc. The extent and the diversity of the contamination are unprecedented.

Even after the cessation of hostilities, the lingering threat of unexploded ordnance will persist. Sustained efforts will be needed to safeguard civilian lives and facilitate the country's recovery. Clearing Syria of explosive ordnance presents an immense challenge likely to span generations…

What efforts are being undertaken by Humanity & Inclusion to address these challenges?

Humanity & Inclusion in Syria is managing one of largest humanitarian missions in the organisation’s history. The programme’s 300 staff members are implementing a broad range of activities, from explosives clearance to economic support to families. In partnership with a vast network of local organisations and health centres, we are able to provide rehabilitation services to older people, people with disabilities and people injured in the violence.

Overall, in just over a decade, we have provided assistance to more than 2 million people.

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