Handicap International has been working to support Syrians impacted by the ongoing crisis since 2011. Over the years, the conflict has reached unimaginable levels of brutality. At the center of this spiral of violence is the issue of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and its disastrous consequences on civilians. Mélanie Broquet, Handicap International's program monitoring and coordination manager explains:
WHAT'S THE SITUATION IN SYRIA AFTER SIX YEARS OF FIGHTING?
The situation in Syria is disastrous. The conflict has intensified over the years with an increasing number of stakeholders. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas has become systematic and widespread resulting in an exponential increase in the number of victims. Since the start of the conflict, nearly 300,000 people have been killed, and soon, the number of injured will pass the one million mark.
More than 11 million people have fled via very complex routes to other parts of Syria or a neighboring country. The picture of the humanitarian situation resulting from the conflict is extremely bleak. The use of explosive weapons is one of the key issues.
WHAT IMPACT DOES THIS HAVE ON CIVILIANS?
The impact is devastating. 90% of the victims of explosive weapons are civilians. When used in populated areas, they kill and cause severe suffering and injuries such as burns, open wounds, and fractures. They also cause disabilities and psychological trauma.
However, the impact of this practice does not stop there. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes the forced displacement of populations and destroys essential infrastructure such as residential buildings, schools, and hospitals.
Furthermore, during these bombing raids, a certain percentage of munitions will not explode on impact, posing a threat to the civilian population long after a conflict has ended and making it much more difficult for them to return to their homes once the fighting is over.
HOW DOES HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL CONDEMN THIS PRACTICE?
Handicap International is leading an international campaign against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, a practice used in a number of ongoing conflicts. We are currently working alongside other NGOs and a group of States committed to drafting a political statement intended to end this practice. We are calling on all States to join the process and to sign this statement which we hope to finalize in 2018.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF EXPLOSIVE REMNANTS OF WAR?
After bombing raids, which are extremely intense in Syria, the target zones are left heavily contaminated with unexploded devices. This contamination poses a threat to the civilian population, even years after the fighting has ended. They are particularly dangerous for displaced people who are living in an unfamiliar environment and for families trying to get to their houses to collect items or return permanently.
Oftentimes, members of these communities do their own clearance by removing explosive remnants themselves. This is extremely dangerous as these devices and the debris are extremely unstable and their condition varies widely.
Handicap International organizes risk education sessions so civilians know how to spot, avoid, and report the landmines, cluster bombs, and other explosive devices. Since 2013, more than 400,000 Syrians have benefited from our risk education sessions.
WHAT ARE THE REHABILITATION NEEDS?
The needs are immense, and six years after the start of the conflict, we are still in the emergency phase. This unimaginably brutal war has caused both psychological and physical trauma. More than one million people have been injured and tens of thousands have had amputations which will require prostheses and or orthopedic fittings, plus rehabilitation care.
These needs are greater given that the health care structures in some areas of the country have been entirely destroyed and those injured receive care at a very late stage. If a person requiring rehabilitation is not treated immediately, their injuries can deteriorate rapidly, causing permanent disabilities.
THE TRAUMA IS ALSO PSYCHOLOGICAL.
This aspect absolutely must be taken into account. The violence of the conflict--in particular the bombing--causes different forms of trauma, with symptoms including disorientation, anxiety, inability to speak, and depression. People suffering from psychological trauma require long-term adapted support.
We endeavor to provide this through a range of psychological support activities: discussion sessions, one-on-one support, and or referral to relevant specialists. It is no exaggeration to say that an entire generation of Syrians has been traumatized by this war of unparalleled violence.
ARE HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATIONS OPERATING AS USUAL IN SYRIA?
No, the provision of humanitarian aid is regularly hindered in Syria. In the areas being bombed, women, children and older people have no access to the aid they require. The humanitarian organizations need to be able to take action to provide assistance to the civilians who cannot flee the combat zones and are living in highly precarious conditions with no access to basic services, which have mostly been destroyed. International Humanitarian Law requires civilians to be protected during conflict. What is happening in Syria is unacceptable.
HANDICAP INTERNATIONAL AND THE SYRIAN CRISIS
Nearly 900,000 people have benefited from Handicap International's actions since launching operations in 2012. The organization provides physical rehabilitation services and psychological support, and distributes emergency aid to meet the basic needs of people with injuries, people with disabilities and particularly vulnerable individuals. To prevent injuries and death, Handicap International also issues awareness-raising and safety messages targeting local populations living amid explosive remnants of war. Learn more about our work in Syria and read our February 2017 Syrian/Iraqi situation report.