More than 90 percent of people living in Syria who have lived through more than 12 years of a deadly armed conflict – compounded by the devastating earthquake in February – are living below the poverty line and need urgent humanitarian assistance, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned Wednesday.
Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Suhair Zakkout, ICRC spokesperson for Syria warned that more than 15 million across the Middle Eastern country need urgent access to basic human rights – such as water - as she urged the world to “not forget” those suffering from conflict, natural disaster and disease.
Ahead of the European Union hosting the Seventh Brussels Conference on ‘Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region’, Zakkout said, for the majority of the country, their existence is “no longer a life.”
“We are into the second decade of conflict in Syria, and this has been an enduring spell of immeasurable trauma, pain and loss for families across the county.”
She said the need to maintain the delivery of humanitarian aid to the northwest is even more critical after the February 6 earthquake.
“The impact of this crisis has reverberated across Syria… shaking the already fragile and traumatized people and fragile infrastructure.”
Giving an example, she said: “In every corner of Aleppo, for someone who visits this city for the first time, you start to actually ask if this damage is related to earthquake or does it relate to armed conflict. You find tears in the eyes of people when they start to talk about how they have experienced the past decade in Syria.”
Syrians have not only had to cope with the war and the earthquakes – which killed more than 6,000 in the war-torn country and displaced tens of thousands more – but also the effects of COVID-19 and climate change.
“Crisis after crisis” have left Syrians on the brink, she warned. Vulnerable communities must also overcome rampant inflation, economic recession, the collapse of public health services, the destruction of homes and the risk that crucial infrastructure may fail.
The risk of collapse of Syria’s critical infrastructure is a pressing concern, she said.
Restrictive measures and sanctions have hampered the import of spare parts, pushing the drinking water systems in eight major cities to the brink of collapse. Most treatment plants are damaged, and their functionality is alarmingly low or nonexistent.
“People travel on foot for miles for a drop of water,” said Zakkout. “Water they can’t afford. This isn’t a life.”
Any collapse or any failure of the system, or the main infrastructure, especially water will mean catastrophic consequences for the population. It means that public health not only water public health, hygiene, food production, everything is impacted.
“What we appeal as an international humanitarian neutral organization, is that the needs of the population and the humanitarian consequences of what has happened in Syria to be put as a priority…because the collapse of these essential services is not a distant threat, but very much possible with devastating consequences for the Syrian people.”
Zakkout said other headline-grabbing conflicts – such as the Sudan crisis and the ongoing Ukraine-Russian conflict – have seen dwindling attention focused on Syria.
“We have been investing as the ICRC - together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent - to maintain and increase the stabilizing of the water infrastructure in Syria by supporting the maintenance and operation of certain big water treatment plants across the country.”
This includes the water treatment plant in Aleppo, for example, which provides 3.5 million people with safe clean water.
However, despite Syria being one of the ICRC’s biggest operations – it has also been the most underfunded one in the region last year, said Zakkout.
“Unfortunately, the media headlines follow the news and the breaking news. And we don't want to let Syria be forgotten and the people of Syria to be forgotten among the headlines and the urgency of other complex conflicts globally or in the region.”
“We should not turn our backs to the people of Syria; countries and state donors should not turn a blind eye to what could be a lifeline for Syrians.”
The ICRC is appealing to donor states for an immediate international commitment to safeguard critical infrastructure and essential services and to ensure that a comprehensive humanitarian response can be sustained while more durable solutions can be found.
Coordinated efforts and increased funding are urgently needed to facilitate early recovery.
Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East, said: “The international community must confront the harsh reality that the current situation in Syria is untenable, and failure to act will have dire consequences for all those involved and hinder any prospects for sustainable recovery.”
“We must prioritize the preservation of critical infrastructure and provide comprehensive humanitarian responses.”