The International Committee of the Red Cross is deeply alarmed by the situation in the Aleppo region, where fighting is intensifying, hospitals and health workers have been targeted, people have no water or electricity and more than 70,000 have now fled their homes.
“The most basic infrastructure to support the lives of the people has been critically damaged, worsening the situation of the population dramatically, with the number of newly displaced people rising by the day,” said Marianne Gasser, Head of the ICRC’s Delegation in Syria. She is currently in Aleppo.
Two hospitals in Northern Aleppo were partially damaged on 15 February, resulting in civilian casualties including medical workers. These health facilities, which were providing thousands of consultations and surgeries and delivering hundreds of babies per month, are now out of service.
The hospitals that are still standing are struggling to function.
The ICRC calls on all parties to the conflict to immediately halt attacks on health care facilities and personnel. “These are protected under International Humanitarian Law, along with essential basic infrastructures, such as water treatment plants. Water supply should not be used as a weapon of war. We deplore the attacks which are rendering the whole infrastructure in the area non-functional and causing massive civilian displacement,” Ms. Gasser said.
The situation was already desperate for many people before this latest surge of violence.
“The clashes and fighting are pervasive in Aleppo, making it harder and harder for the people to maintain any semblance of a normal life”, Ms. Gasser said.
As the humanitarian situation deteriorates in northern Syria, the ICRC is increasing the amount of aid for people caught up in the latest round of violence.
In close cooperation with local water boards, the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) have been striving to improve access to clean water by repairing or equipping bore holes, which are now the only source of water, providing a daily 46 million litres of water for an estimated 1.5 million people in the city and outskirts of Aleppo.
The ICRC and the SARC have also supported hospitals treating more than 400,000 patients through the delivery of generators and oxygen, as well as medical supplies and material, in addition to the support provided to six SARC polyclinics located in western and northern rural Aleppo treating a total of 160,000 patients.
In addition, the ICRC and SARC continue to provide 10,200 bread packs per day. Some of these have been sent to areas where the newly displaced have arrived.
From 16 to 17 February, an ICRC/SARC team spent two days in western rural Aleppo after having crossed the frontline. “This is a good example of how our continuous dialogue with all parties concerned yields results, and makes it possible to reach people in need, including in opposition-controlled areas,” Ms. Gasser said.
The team was able to visit a number of villages, as well as hospitals, which are struggling to cope, and some of the estimated 30,000 displaced people in western rural Aleppo - who are mostly being hosted by local residents’ families – in order to assess the needs.
Most of the resident population are eager to resume cultivating their land. However, they lack fuel, water and equipment.
“The needs and the suffering are huge on both sides of Aleppo City and rural Aleppo. So is the courage of ordinary people, both those who have lived their whole lives in Aleppo, and those who have fled there from all over the governorate where conditions are grim and the security fragile,” said Ms. Gasser.
The ICRC and the SARC have also been working over the past ten days to deliver relief supplies to other towns in Syria such as Al Waer in Homs and the besieged town of Moadamiyeh. But the organisation has consistently called for a regular, unimpeded flow of aid to the populations suffering, not just there but throughout the country.
Meanwhile, Peter Maurer, the ICRC’s president is due to begin a 5-day visit to Syria on Monday to witness first-hand the humanitarian situation and meet with Syrian officials.
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Red Crescent volunteers offer safe passage for humanitarian cases, Aleppo. Image: SARC