March 15 marks the tenth anniversary of the conflict in Syria, and the humanitarian crisis is only getting worse. Humanity & Inclusion is working in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt with Syrians who have lost everything. Humanitarian needs are acute, while access to the people who need help remains a major challenge. Even when the conflict ends, rebuilding Syria will take generations. The level of destruction of infrastructure, contamination by explosive devices—an unprecedented level in the history of mine clearance—and the scale of population displacement pose enormous challenges.
Silver Spring, Maryland—After a decade of war, continuous bombing and shelling in populated areas have had appalling humanitarian consequences: thousands of deaths and life-changing injuries, psychological trauma, families torn apart, forced displacement, destruction of essential infrastructure like hospitals, schools, water lines, and bridges, and ever worsening poverty. Humanity & Inclusion is working in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt with Syrians who have lost everything and need humanitarian aid to survive.
At least one-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.
The level of contamination is unprecedented in the history of mine clearance: contamination from unexploded ordnance, such as 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. 11.5 million people are currently living in areas contaminated by explosive hazards.
"Syria is a special case in terms of contamination for two reasons,” says Emmanuel Savage, Director of Armed Violence Reduction at Humanity & Inclusion. “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. The second reason lies in the type of areas affected: mostly urban areas. We know from experience that explosive remnants in urban areas are particularly difficult to clear, amid thousands of tons of rubble. We also have to think about how to support individuals. Syrians have experienced the horrors of war, and they need physical and psychological support. Physical trauma such as amputations, brain and spinal cord injuries, but also psychological trauma need specific care. I think it will take at least two generations to rebuild Syria."
Contamination with explosive remnants of war is one of the significant obstacles preventing the safe return of refugees and displaced persons in Syria. It will also be a major obstacle to rebuilding Syria, its economy and social fabric. Rebuilding cities and infrastructure in Syria will require complex and expensive clearance operations.
"Massive bombing and shelling of cities is a deadly cocktail for civilians," says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. "The human suffering caused by bombing population centers must stop. In Syria, but also Iraq and Yemen, we witness the disastrous consequences for civilians over and over. Decisive policy victories against landmines (1997) and cluster munitions (2008) give us hope—we have a historic opportunity to clearly say ‘stop’ to the bombing of places where populations are concentrated. The U.S. and other States must commit to the current diplomatic process for an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons where civilians live. We must all recognize the indiscriminate human suffering caused when explosive weapons are deployed in populated areas, as well as the lasting effects. Older principles of international humanitarian law do not adequately address this challenge."
Acute humanitarian needs
As violence continues across Syria, over 13 million people need humanitarian assistance—more than 6 million of whom are children. Access to basic services (health, food, clean water, shelter, etc.) remains an absolute priority.
Within Syria, 6.7 million people are displaced—many of whom have moved multiples times. This is the largest internally displaced population in the world. Nearly a quarter of people have disabilities—close to double the global average. 5.6 million Syrians are refugees in neighboring countries and heavily rely on humanitarian aid.
The current humanitarian crisis is aggravated by an acute economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, making an already severe situation worse. Humanitarians 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.
As health infrastructure has been destroyed by bombing, health services are unable to cope with this additional health crisis. Only half of hospitals and primary healthcare centers across Syria are fully functional.
- 13 million-plus people need humanitarian assistance, more than 6 million of whom are children
- 6.7 million people are displaced inside the country – often multiple 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
- 11.5 million people live in areas contaminated by explosive hazards
- 5.6 million Syrians refugees living in neighboring countries
- 1.8 million Syrians have been helped by Humanity & Inclusion in 6 countries since 2012
Humanity & Inclusion experts available for comment
- Amy Rodgers, Humanitarian Policy Coordinator
- Federico Dessi, Regional Director of the Middle East Programs
- Caroline Duconseille, Country Manager in Lebanon
- Rosanna Rosengren-Klitgaart, Country Manager in Jordan
Relevant Humanity & Inclusion reports on the impact of explosive weapons
- The use of explosive weapons in populated area: it is time to act, 2018, Briefing paper
- The Waiting List. Addressing the immediate and long-term needs of victims of explosive weapons in Syria, 2019, Report
- The Long-Term Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in Yemen, 2020, Study.
- A Persistent Danger: Unexploded Ordnance in Populated Areas, 2020, Briefing Paper
- Everywhere the bombing followed us, 2017, Report
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.
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.