Civilians are the main casualties of the conflict in Syria, which has reached an unprecedented level of violence, and has caused 250,000 deaths, 1 million injuries, and forced more than 4.5 million people from their homes. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the most damaging aspect of the conflict.
In Syria and neighboring countries, Handicap International teams have witnessed the terrible suffering of Syrian refugees and displaced people, victims of a conflict that continues to escalate. According to the report, “The Use of Explosive Weapons in Syria: A Time Bomb in the Making,” published by Handicap International in May 2015, explosive weapons account for four out of five recorded incidents* of war. Seventy-five percent of recorded incidents occurred in densely-populated areas.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Emmanuel Sauvage, the organization’s anti-mine action regional coordinator, based in Amman, Jordan. “The destruction caused by air attacks and fighting is unlike anything I’ve seen on previous humanitarian missions. Entire cities have been razed to the ground. The physical and psychological impact of the conflict on civilians leaves me speechless. I’ve never had to deal with distress on this scale before.”
The areas of Syria worst affected by the fighting have been reduced to a pile of rubble: the country’s main infrastructures (hospitals and schools) have been destroyed, with long-term consequences. If the conflict ended today, it would probably be decades before Syria was free from unexploded devices. In the northern city of Kobani, four months of combat, including ground fighting and coalition air strikes, left an average of ten munitions per square meter in the city center, and destroyed nearly 80% of buildings, according to Handicap International’s May 2015 Kobani factsheet.
The protection of civilians and access to humanitarian assistance are central to any future conflict resolution initiatives. “International humanitarian law and humanitarian principles are constantly violated in Syria,” says Anne Héry, Handicap International’s Advocacy and Institutional Relations director. “Explosive weapons are used in populated areas with total disregard for civilian lives, including illegal weapons such as cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines. The international community must firmly and systematically condemn these practices.”
Handicap International calls on the United Nations and States to step up their efforts to protect civilians from the effects of the war and to ensure their access to humanitarian assistance on a scale required to meet their needs.
According to the United Nations, 13.5 million people need humanitarian assistance. Four million refugees already present in neighboring countries are placing an unbearable strain on their economies and populations. The international community urgently needs to do more to support them.
In four years, Handicap International has fitted more than 6,000 people with artificial limbs and braces (prostheses and orthoses). It has organized physical and functional rehabilitation sessions for more than 60,000 people.
*An incident is defined according to IMAS as “an event that gives rise to an accident or has the potential to lead to an accident” – International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), Glossary of Mine Action Terms and abbreviations, Second edition - January 2013.