Raqqa: “The humanitarian situation is critical and the risks enormous”

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On October 17, the city of Raqqa, in Syria, was recaptured by military forces. Five months of fighting have caused a high number of civilian casualties and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

An alarming situation

“Once again, civilians are the first victims of the conflict," explains Florence Daunis, Director of Operations at Handicap International. "Since the beginning of summer, Raqqa has been destroyed by fighting, which has been marked by the intensive use of explosive weapons. Large-scale bombing and artillery shelling and the widespread use of deadly weapons such as improvised explosive devices (IED) in urban areas have had a devastating impact on the population."

Thousands of bombing casualties

With populated areas under daily attack from explosive weapons, September was the deadliest month of 2017 in Syria. “A lot of people have been killed or injured in the fighting in Raqqa,” Florence adds. “Thousands of people were trapped in the city and urgently need humanitarian assistance. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of people are now internally displaced and are facing a situation that’s particularly complicated. They walked for days before reaching safe areas, by which time they were generally dehydrated and exhausted. We’re also seeing a lot of casualties of improvised explosive devices. Every day, dozens of victims arrive in some medical centers where they’re generally unable to stay more than a few hours because of the high number of casualties.”

A contamination similar to Mosul

The impact of fighting in Raqqa in recent months goes beyond the immediate term and will mark the city for months and years to come. “As in Mosul, Iraq, the fighting has left the city contaminated both by countless unexploded weapons, which are often extremely dangerous, and booby traps – some so sophisticated that weapons disposal experts do not yet have the capacity to neutralize them. It will take years of clearance operations before the threat from these weapons is lifted in the region.” Raising the awareness of the population to the presence and threat from explosive remnants of war is therefore vital to protecting local residents.

Providing assistance to the local population

In addition to risk education, helping health facilities provide rehabilitation and psychosocial support services to casualties is our team’s top priority. We are also distributing food packages and essential non-food items to people who have suffered a sudden decline in their living standards.

With the release of our new report, Everywhere the bombing followed us, which focuses on the impact of the widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Syria, Handicap International is calling on all parties to the conflict to end this practice and on the international community to strongly condemn it and bring it to an end.

HI’s Stop Bombing Civilians campaign

In early September, Handicap International launched an international civic campaign to collect one million signatures and alert States to the devastating impact on civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We’re calling on States to sign a political declaration to bring an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to recognize the suffering of civilians.