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At the outset of the fighting in Syria earlier this year, ECHO’s presence in the Syrian capital has allowed to closely monitor the unfolding of events and to accurately assess the needs of the Syrian people. As the fighting continues to intensify, ECHO’s humanitarian expert based in Syria has sent us this dispatch from the field.
Over the past few weeks, the situation in Syria has drastically deteriorated all over the country, and particularly in Damascus, following the recent offensive of armed opposition that has reached the centre of the city. All day long, explosions and bomb blasts can be heard from our office in the city-centre. During the last few days, the city of Aleppo has been experiencing intense fighting and the fear of another massacre is present in all minds.
More than 200,000 people have fled from Aleppo and many are being killed every day.
Apart from the fighting itself, the deterioration has drastically affected the capacity of the humanitarian community in addressing the needs of the affected population. In addition to the emergency needs immediately related to the fighting, the violence has led to massive numbers of people leaving their homes in search of protection in quieter areas.
Many are hosted in overcrowded schools or mosques with very poor hygiene conditions and lacking all basic items: food, hygiene, water. As fighting has also heavily affected the capital, several aid agencies have interrupted most of their activities.
Even the national or local organisations have been hindered in their capacity to respond due to logistics constraints, particularly their capacity to replenish stocks from Damascus. As a humanitarian community, we need to decentralize our operations rapidly to preserve our capacity to respond.
In addition to internal displacement – sometimes families have to relocate two or three times in a row, fleeing away from the violence flaring all across the country – intense fighting in Damascus and other cities has led thousands of people to leave the country and seek protection in neighbouring countries.
The displaced and the refugees are traumatized by the violence, far from their homes and left with little support. While more than a million people have displaced internally over the past months, it is also reported that there are more than 120,000 registered refugees in neighbouring countries, more than 70% of which are women and children – and this number is rising.
The situation is overstretching the capacity of the humanitarian community to respond to the limit.
Providing decent accommodation for all the displaced and refugees, in addition to addressing their most essential needs, such as basic items like blankets, mattresses, cooking sets, hygiene sets as well as food and water – are permanent challenges that aid agencies have largely failed to meet so far. The constraints include security, administrative impediments and limited funding.
The International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent has added dried fruits to the daily rations as a way of marking the holy month of Ramadan which very few will be celebrating this year.
The European Commission through its Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) was among the very first humanitarian donors to support the Syrians in February 2012. Since then, it has increased its support, which now reaches €40 million and more funds are being requested to address the increasing needs.
As the only humanitarian donor present on the ground, we are permanently trying to better understand the needs and constraints that are faced by our main partners and I hope that it will help us to provide them with the most appropriate support.