The situation in Syria has continued to deteriorate, especially in the past few days, and violence is taking a heavy toll, leaving hundreds of people dead or wounded. Many others have been detained.
Nine months after the unrest started, the effects of the violence are being felt in other ways as well. "Even though this is not a country-wide humanitarian crisis, it is having a major and direct impact on large swathes of the country," said Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, the ICRC's head of operations for the Near and Middle East. "Needs are mounting rapidly, especially with winter setting in. Fuel shortages, and the difficulty of moving about freely and buying food, are among the things that make daily life ever harder."
Sanctions imposed on Syria by various countries are also making the lives of ordinary people more difficult. Some factories and shops are closing down, and electricity cuts are not unusual. Many Syrians rely on daily wages. If these were not paid out, many people would find themselves in an even more difficult situation.
The ICRC's main concern remains the obstacles to obtaining medical care that have to be overcome by the wounded and the sick. "There have been repeated reports of lack of respect for medical staff and facilities," explained Ms Mégevand-Roggo. In Idlib, Homs, Hama, Dara'a, Deir Al Zor, among other places, many lives could be lost if emergency health-care services are not given rapid and unimpeded passage.
"We have been in Syria for more than 40 years, mainly to provide support for the population of the occupied Golan. Now our activities have significantly expanded to assist the people affected by the internal violence," said Ms Mégevand-Roggo. "Our partners in the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been working around the clock to provide medical and food aid in particularly difficult and risky circumstances. Any delay or impediment in providing first aid could cost injured persons their lives."
The ICRC remains very concerned about what is happening to many thousands of detainees. In September it conducted a visit to the Damascus Central Prison at Adraa in the framework of its confidential dialogue with the Syrian authorities and its efforts to build confidence and mutual understanding. "Discussions with the authorities are continuing with a view to finding common ground that would allow us to carry out visits to detainees in accordance with our standard working procedures," said Ms Mégevand-Roggo. ICRC delegates must be able to tour the premises, talk in private with the people of their choice, and repeat visits as often as deemed necessary. "Findings and recommendations are discussed only with the authorities concerned. We believe that this is the best way to obtain satisfactory results," she added.
Since the start of the current civil unrest, the ICRC has been coordinating its activities in Syria with those of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Since June of this year, when the ICRC was granted greater access to the areas of unrest, the organization has been providing medical and food aid and other basic items for the people affected.
Facts and figures (May – December 2011)
14,000 ICRC food parcels, each of which contains food for six people for one month, have been distributed (a total of 85'000 people)
30,000 school kits, each of which contains a school bag and a complete set of stationery, have been distributed to children from poor households in affected areas.
Nearly 1,400 hygiene kits, each of which contains hygiene items for six people, and 3,000 blankets have been distributed by the ICRC and/or the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
The ICRC has donated wound-dressing materials and supplies for the treatment of patients with violence-related injuries to private and government hospitals in Hama, Dara'a, Homs and Idlib, and to Syrian Arab Red Crescent headquarters for the use of first-aid volunteers.
The ICRC has donated triage kits, stretchers, wheelchairs and trolleys to hospitals where the injured and the dead have been taken.
The ICRC has provided four mobile first-aid and health-care units, 700 first-aid bags, a large variety of medical supplies, and 600 body bags for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has distributed thousands of food parcels, blankets, mattresses and medications to the neediest people in at least 20 cities, towns and villages affected by the unrest.
The ICRC organized an advanced first-aid seminar for more than 60 doctors who volunteered to help the Syrian Arab Red Crescent treat injured people.
In addition to activities related to the unrest, the ICRC is still carrying out its regular activities.
For drought-affected people in the north-west of the country, the ICRC:
built or renovated drinking water desalination units in Homs, Deir Al-Zor and Al-Hasakah governorates serving 10,500 people;
installed a pump in an Al-Hasakah borehole for 3,500 people and their livestock;
upgraded three underground drinking-water reservoirs in Deir Al-Zor and Al-Raqqa for 2,400 people and their livestock;
upgraded two drinking-water ponds in Deir Al-Zor for 2,500 people and their livestock.
provided support for Syrian Arab Red Crescent trucking services that enable more than 21,000 people living in remote areas of Deir Al-Zor, Al-Raqqa and Al-Hasakah governorates to continue to receive clean drinking water free of charge.
In connection with the occupied Golan, the ICRC:
helped 538 pilgrims to travel across the demarcation line to visit families and friends in other parts of Syria;
arranged for 175 students to cross from the occupied Golan to Damascus;
arranged for 240 students to cross back to the occupied Golan either for holidays or following their graduation from Damascus University.
In addition, the ICRC organized six workshops on international humanitarian law and international human rights law for 56 lawyers, 40 journalists, nearly 200 judges and 33 Syrian Arab Red Crescent communication volunteers in Damascus and Aleppo in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and some ministries.
For further information, please contact: Hicham Hassan, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 21 730 25 41 or +41 79 536 92 57