The war is moving to cities, millions of people need help. The assistance of humanitarian workers in affected areas is crucial for our stability and security

Published: Aug 13, 2018 Reading time: 6 minutes
Sýrie, Člověk v tísni
© Foto: Sari Hajjneid, Člověk v tísni

(Prague, 13 August 2018) 65 million people had to flee their homes last year because of armed conflicts. The number of armed attacks on densely populated areas – villages and towns - has been increasing. Hostile parties have been using civilian targets to demonstrate their power.

According to the United Nations, the number of civilians killed or injured during explosive attacks in 2017 increased by 38% in comparison with the preceding year; which means that out of 42 972 casualties 31 904 were civilians.

Humanitarian organizations deliver needed assistance in dangerous areas. Yet humanitarian workers, together with civilians, become the target of intimidation and violence. According to data from The Aid Worker Security Database, 313 humanitarian workers were killed, injured or kidnapped last year. In November 2017, we lost one of our colleagues during an air raid in Syria’s Aleppo province. Neither civilians nor humanitarian workers should become the target of armed attacks.

”Our work is crucial not only because we save lives of others and help people cope with distress and losses caused by wars and disasters – we also reduce the risk of secondary impacts of these events, i.e. mass exoduses of people. Emergency response reflects human solidarity but it is also a geopolitical interest of more peaceful and richer regions including the Czech Republic,“ says Jan Mrkvička, PIN Relief and Development Department Director. That’s why on Sunday, 19th August we will commemorate World Humanitarian Day, as we have the last fourteen years. Follow the #NotATarget hashtag.

Streets in towns and cities turned into the battlefields and frontlines of this century

According to the Red Cross, over 50 million people currently live in towns and villages affected by armed conflict. In an urbanizing world conflicts easily move into densely populated areas, and city streets have turned into the battlefields and front lines of this century. The vast and arid countryside of the Middle East does not offer any natural hiding places; instead fighters battle in inhabited areas, but they still use the same weapons originally designed for use in open battlefields. The destructive power of these weapons is much greater in densely populated towns. Air raids targeting city centres cause even worse damage than fighting for control of particular streets. "A high concentration of people with limited mobility has critical consequences in case of attacks. We could see that in Syrian Aleppo and Iraqi Mosul, but also alongside the frontline in Eastern Ukraine," says Tomáš Kocian, People in Need humanitarian aid coordinator for the Middle East.

City residents feel other post war effects too. "The local economy can collapse much faster in cities and towns than agricultural regions. Thanks to their own resources, people in the country are able to cope with an unfavourable situation much better," Kocian explains. “When possible, we try to choose an effective way of support which helps maintain local economies and employs people. Our help in Syria includes mostly financial aid which stimulates the local market and helps maintain local production,” he adds. Besieging towns and cities has become a common abusive strategy of combattants, particularly in Syria. It is impossible to deliver any food supplies, medical assistance or emergency response in a besieged city. This results in astronomical food prices and starvation of thousands of people living in such regions.

Increased urban warfare has caused hospitals and schools to more often become the target of bombing. Children who dropped out of educational system become an easier target and cheap recruits for militants. When a hospital in a war zone is knocked out of service, common injuries and diseases become fatal. Ordinary people suddenly find themselves in crosshairs of war; surviving becomes their only thought. "We lived in Pervomaysk together with my husband and mother-in-law. Once there was a shelling and a rocket hit the cellar where we were all hiding. Both my husband and my mother-in-law were killed and I remained alone with two children," says one woman who receives aid from People in Need in eastern Ukraine. 

Protection of forcibly displaced persons and IDPs

Three out of four victims of explosive attacks last year were civilians. “According to Geneva Conventions, all military operations have to be carried out with regard to civilian population in order to minimise losses of life. In reality, densely populated areas in cities have seen heavy shelling and helpless people, as well as purely civilian targets like hospitals, markets or bakeries are often the object of attacks. This is the reality, as indicated by certain records and documents from Syria, Iraq and Ukraine,“ explains Marek Štys, director of humanitarian programmes of People in Need. “These people urgently need our assistance. People in Need, together with other non-profit organizations, involves local people and delivers emergency response quickly and cheaply to areas where aid is most urgently needed. One of the positive impacts of our work is securing better living conditions for people – as a consequence, they do not flee their countries,“ Štys adds.

Last year People in Need distributed 1 514 200 food parcels every month, secured drinking water and sanitation for 1 090 700 people, restored shelters and delivered construction material for 48 100 people, and ensured education for 33 100 children affected by conflicts and crises. 

The vast majority of the record-breaking number of people who were forced to leave their homes because of conflict last year did not flee their home countries; rather they continue to seek their refuge there. According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), towards the end of 2017, 65 million people were displaced; 40 million of them were IDPs (internally displaced persons), half of whom were children. “Due to the worldwide increase of armed conflicts, support and protection of forcibly displaced persons has become one of the cross-curricular topics of humanitarian aid,” explains Marek Štys.

“We are supporting refugees in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and Afghanistan, as well as in more remote parts of the world where crises are not yet well known on the public stage, e.g. in Bangladesh, DR Congo, and Angola. We are supporting people who want to remain in their home countries and we also support local host communities as they are sometimes under great pressure due to the influx of refugees. Besides financial and material assistance, we also ensure educational programmes, job opportunities and sometimes provide psychosocial assistance to help people cope with the horrors of war,” Štys adds. Non-governmental humanitarian organizations are key providers of assistance. They help save lives, alleviate suffering of civilians, reduce forcible displacement, and contribute to rehabilitation of local economies, infrastructure and livelihoods.

People in Need helps survivors of war and natural disasters in places like Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Angola, Nepal, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. People in Need is able to help people in all these countries thanks to the institutional support of donors from the Czech Republic, Great Britain, the United States, Germany, Switzerland, European Union and Czech society, which contributes through PIN club of Friends, Real Gift and the fundraising campaign Real Aid. People in Need would like to sincerely thank all donors for their support.

For more information please contact:

Jan Mrkvička, PIN Relief and Development Department Director, +420 777 787 961

Tomáš Kocian, People in Need humanitarian aid coordinator for Middle East, +420 777 787 970

Autor: Člověk v tísni

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