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10 years of conflict: "It will take at least two generations to rebuild Syria"

Press Release | London, 5th March 2021, 9:00 GMT

15th March 2021 marks 10 years since the start of the conflict in Syria and the humanitarian crisis is only getting worse. Humanity & Inclusion (HI) is working in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt with Syrians who have lost everything and need humanitarian aid to survive. Humanitarian needs are immense while access to people in need remains a major challenge. Even when the conflict ends, rebuilding Syria will take generations. The level of destruction of infrastructure, contamination by explosive devices - a level unprecedented in the history of mine clearance - and the scale of population displacement are enormous challenges to overcome.

The humanitarian context

A decade of conflict and Syria is in a severe state of humanitarian crisis. This is made worse as there are three crises happening at the same time; the ongoing conflict, an acute economic crisis and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Humanitarian workers struggle to access all communities in need and face mounting security risks. In 2020, there were 65 recorded attacks on aid workers; nearly half of those attacked were killed. It is estimated that there have been at least 100,000 COVID-19 cases in Government of Syria-controlled territory alone.

At least a third of homes in Syria are damaged or destroyed. Major cities like Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs have been largely destroyed by extensive and intense use of explosive weapons. 80% of the city of Raqqa was destroyed in 2017. Massive, continuous bombing and shelling has left millions of people without homes and forced them to flee. 

As health infrastructure has been destroyed by bombing, services are unable to cope with the extra pressures of COVID-19. Only half of hospitals and primary healthcare centres across Syria are fully functional. Even before the pandemic, more Syrians are estimated to have died from the breakdown of the health system than directly from the fighting.

A country contaminated by explosive weapons

The level of contamination in Syria is unprecedented in the history of mine clearance. The contamination from unexploded ordnance (UXO), i.e. bombs, rockets and mortars that did not explode on impact, and other explosive hazards such as landmines and booby traps, is so severe that it will take generations to make Syria safe. Contamination with explosive remnants of war is one of the significant obstacles preventing the safe return of refugees and displaced persons in Syria. This contamination will also be a major obstacle in rebuilding Syria; its economy and social fabric. Rebuilding cities and infrastructure in Syria will require complex and expensive clearance operations.

What makes contamination in Syria different?

1. The first reason is the very wide range of weapons used.

“After a decade of conflict, Syrian soil is contaminated by a complete spectrum of explosive weapons including unexploded bombs, explosive remnants and booby traps, and improvised mines,” says Emmanuel Savage, Director of Armed Violence Reduction at HI.

2. The second is the fact that urban and peri-urban areas are the worst affected.

“You find the widest range of explosive weapons in cities. We know from experience that it is particularly difficult to clear urban areas. In Raqqa, for example, where 80% of the city has been destroyed, the ground is littered with rubble mixed with explosive remnants and booby traps left behind by the belligerent parties. In Laos, they are still clearing weapons 45 years after the Vietnam War, so I think it will take at least two generations to clear Syria,” says Emmanuel Savage.

“Over and over again, we see the human suffering caused by urban bombing. It must stop. In Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, we have witnessed disastrous consequences for civilians in cities subjected to carpet-bombing. We have won the fight against landmines (1999) and cluster munitions (2008), we have now a historic opportunity to clearly say ENOUGH to urban bombings. States must recognise the indiscriminate human suffering caused by bombing in populated areas and their lasting effects. They must protect civilians,” says Anne Hery, Director of Advocacy at HI.

Salam’s story

In 2015, Salam was injured by a cluster munition; an object which she thought was a toy in the ground. Children, like Salam, are particularly at risk of the consequences of explosive weapons. Children have thinner skin, more flexible bones and greater heat and fluid sensitivity. They are less likely to survive blast injuries, and when they do, their injuries are frequently for life. HI worked with Salam to provide rehabilitation and psychosocial support following her injury.


Notes

Humanity & Inclusion’s experts available for interviews:

  • Amy Rodgers, Humanitarian Policy Coordinator
  • Federico Dessi, Regional Director of the Middle East Programmes
  • Caroline Duconseille, Country Manager in Lebanon
  • Rosanna Rosengren-Klitgaart, Country Manager in Jordan       

Statistics from Humanity & Inclusion:

  • Over 13 million people need humanitarian assistance, over 6 million of whom are children
  • 6.7 million people are displaced inside the country – many multiples times. This is the largest internally displaced population in the world
  • Nearly 1/4 of people have disabilities which is nearly double the global average
  • There are 5.6 million Syrians refugees living in neighbouring countries
  • 11.5 million people live in areas contaminated by explosive hazards
  • 1.8 million Syrians have been helped by HI in 6 countries since 2012

Humanity & Inclusion’s reports on the impact of explosive weapons:

  1. The use of explosive weapons in populated area: it is time to act, 2018, Briefing paper
  2. The Waiting List. Addressing the immediate and long-term needs of victims of explosive weapons in Syria, 2019, Report
  3. The Long-Term Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in Yemen, 2020, Study.
  4. A Persistent Danger: Unexploded Ordnance in Populated Areas, 2020, Briefing Paper

These reports are being used to inform the ongoing international negotiations between states towards a political declaration to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.


Press contact

Lucy Cottle, Humanity & Inclusion UK
Email: l.cottle@hi.org
Mobile: +44 (0)7504989280

About Humanity & Inclusion

Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict, and disaster for 39 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects, and to increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Humanity & Inclusion is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 and the winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2011. Humanity & Inclusion acts and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task

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Email: media.uk@hi.org
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