A young girl sitting in line at the JRS field kitchen in Damascus. JRS centers are open at the moment, providing food, remedial education and psychosocial services, but sporadic closures have become the norm. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
(Beirut) October 8, 2014 — The humanitarian crisis in two of the three principle cities in Syria has deteriorated dramatically in the last two months, according to Jesuit Refugee Service teams on the ground.
Damascus. The capital city has suffered from a dramatic increase in violence between rebel and government forces. This has caused waves of displacement from the outlying suburb of Jobar into the suburb of Dwelaa, where JRS centers are based. Security concerns — increases in random gunfire and mortars — have forced staff to close the centers several times in the last month. JRS centers are open at the moment, providing food, remedial education and psychosocial services, but sporadic closures have become the norm.
"The situation in Damascus is very unpredictable at the moment, especially in the areas where we have our centers. We have to take each day as it comes. We do our best to assist those in need, but it is a very precarious situation," said Nawras Sammour S.J., Regional Director of JRS Middle East and North Africa.
Aleppo. Further north near the Turkish border, the inhabitants of Aleppo live in constant fear, caught between various rebel factions, the Islamic Front and government forces. Gas cylinders are the new weapon of choice of rebels. Filled with substances like scrap metal, they are fired into government-controlled civilian areas on the western side of Aleppo city center, akin to the barrel-bomb used by government forces on civilians in eastern Aleppo. Neither of these weapons have any accuracy and more often than not they land in densely-populated civilian areas, causing severe damage and death.
The population of Aleppo (including suburbs) has dwindled from four million in 2011 to an estimated two million today. However, these two million people are crammed into the western side of the city, which is government-controlled and free from any attack by air. On the eastern side of the city, war is waged on the ground and from the air, leaving people to face almost certain death.
To make matters more dangerous, last week, the U.S. targeted rural areas of Aleppo and the city of Idlib, some 30 miles away. Many residents fear that ISIS militants will hide among the civilian population, thereby drawing attacks from the U.S. and inflicting further suffering on the local communities.
While residents in the government-controlled areas of Aleppo city center have access to water from the municipal authorities once a week, those outside these areas have been water-less for nearly seven weeks. In addition, the area has faced continued electricity blackouts. Only those with generators and pumps have access to water outside government-controlled areas; and with fuel shortages causing prices hikes, this number is dwindling quickly.
Homs has been one of the 'quietest' cities in Syria in the last few weeks. However, a double suicide attack on 1 October at an elementary school in the city centre left over 40 children dead and scores injured. The school is located within a half mile from the JRS Al Moukhales center, and many people affiliated with the JRS centre send their children to that school.
"It seems so far that no one we know has suffered an injury or death, which is extremely lucky. But we mourn for all those children who were killed; we live each day in fear. When will this violence end," asked Sami*, a JRS volunteer.
JRS has rehabilitated 18 wells in the Old City of Homs to supply clean drinking water to 8,000 people. Teams have also been able to drill a well in the outlying village of Mskaneh, ensuring water for the small population.
Other JRS activities have been operating normally in the area, including serving meals to 700 people a day at a field kitchen in the Old City of Homs and providing educational and psychosocial services.
Other areas of Syria. In the northern Kurdish town of Kobane, thousands of civilians are fleeing towards Turkey fearing the advancement of ISIS militants and the bombing of Kobane by the U.S. The UN refugee agency is preparing for the displacement of more than 400,000 people towards Turkey. More than 40,000 had fled by 19 September. Sources on the ground believe that people will begin fleeing ISIS-held Raqqa in northern Syria and head towards Hama, a city between Aleppo and Homs.
In Syria, JRS teams provide emergency humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people. Including: educational and psychosocial activities; food, non-food items and rent support; and basic healthcare services (including a clinic and referrals). In total, an estimate of 300,000 people are helped by JRS in Damascus, Homs and Aleppo.
How can you help? You can help support the work of JRS in the Middle East by clicking here.by James Stapleton
JRS International Communications Coordinator
JRS Middle East and North Africa
*name changed for security reasons