Written 22 September 2016
This week, 78,000 people in the hard-to-reach countryside west of Aleppo will not get the humanitarian aid they desperately need.
A convoy of 31 trucks carrying medicine, blankets, clothes and other essential supplies provided by the UN set off for Urem Al-Kubra from a warehouse on Monday.
They reached a warehouse run by the local sub-branch of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC). But when people came to help them unload the vital supplies, the convoy was attacked, along with the warehouse and nearby health clinic.
Around 20 people were killed, including the SARC sub-branch director. Almost all of the aid supplies were destroyed.
Sadly, violence is not uncommon in Aleppo. But this attack seems to have been specifically targeted at Syria’s largest and most effective independent humanitarian aid organisation – SARC – part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and a partner to the British Red Cross.
Partnership supports over 4.6 million Syrians
The British Red Cross and SARC have worked together since 2004, long before the Syria crisis started in 2011.
During the conflict, the British Red Cross has helped SARC reach more than 4.6 million people in Syria.
Our partnership helped supply and distribute over 430,000 food items and almost 1.3 million other relief supplies such as shelter materials and soap.
We have also provided cold boxes to store essential vaccines for 387,284 children.
Our projects have helped people earn a living and strengthen the skills of more than 6,745 SARC volunteers and 110 staff members who bring lifesaving help to people across the country.
How we work together
The British Red Cross and SARC are both members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which includes 190 countries worldwide.
Even as fighting in Syria split the country’s people into factions, our partnership grew stronger.
Working together supports the Movement’s great strength – Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations help each other to help those most in need with sustainable and cost-effective support programmes.
For instance, SARC can identify the most vulnerable families in besieged and hard-to-reach areas and give them food parcels supplied by the British Red Cross and paid for by donations to our Syria Crisis Appeal.
At the same time, the British Red Cross shares the expertise we have built from working in crises at home and around the world with our SARC colleagues.
We have also trained more than 400 SARC volunteers and staff members. The benefits of this will multiply as they train others in best practice in fields ranging from disaster management to monitoring the effectiveness of their operations.
Our Movement is bound together by a set of fundamental principles, which include neutrality, independence and impartiality.
Operating from this neutral base, SARC can reach people in areas controlled by different factions in the conflict.
UN calls SARC’s role “indispensable”
SARC is also a crucial partner to UN agencies.
Of the four million people in Syria reached each month by the UN’s World Food Programme, 60 per cent of the food distributions are delivered by SARC.
Much of Unicef’s work to bring drinking water and hygienic sanitation to people who need it is carried out by SARC engineers.
SARC is also plays a key role in carrying out medical care with the World Health Organization and other UN bodies and international organisations.
A senior UN official referred to SARC’s role as “indispensable” and there is wide agreement that no other organisation could have grown to deliver projects so effectively since 2011.
How SARC branches work
SARC works through sub-branch offices in 75 different locations around Syria. The warehouse destroyed in western Aleppo was a part of one.
Here are some examples of the local work SARC branches do to support their communities during the conflict:
A SARC sub-branch outside of Damascus, a largely rural area:
- This branch supports 18,625 families who had to flee their homes in other parts of Syria and 700 host families in the town and surrounding countryside.
- When a new family arrives, the branch immediately provides a food parcel and then determines how much additional support they need.
- Around 6,000 families then get food parcels every three months and volunteers distribute 400 bread packs daily to those living in shelters.
- The local SARC clinic treats people through three doctors and three nurses.
Another sub-branch northeast of Damascus, an urban area:
- Considered a frontline and hard-to reach-area, the original population of 40,000 has been increased by 10,550 families who fled from conflict in other places.
- The need among the people is immense, with most families selling their possessions, skipping meals and taking children out of school to make ends meet.
- The sub-branch’s 110 volunteers provide food, other relief items, health services, and water and sanitation services to 1,750 families from the city as well as the thousands families who fled there.
- Their community kitchen reaches 300 families daily and the sub-branch runs two new shelters to accommodate new arrivals.
Support will continue
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that: “There will be at least five more years of intense humanitarian activity; the ambition for the Movement is to double its operations in Syria.”
Syria remains one of the most dangerous conflicts for humanitarian workers in the world. During the past six years, 54 staff and volunteers of SARC have lost their lives while carrying out their duties.
Yet just the day after the crisis, SARC volunteers continued to distribute food to people who had fled their homes and come to Aleppo.
The Aleppo mobile medical team treated 64 ill patients, including giving them much-needed medicine – often hard to come by in Syria.
They also dressed wounds and burns for 11 people who had been injured, bringing the number served to 75, mostly women and children.
The British Red Cross will do our part to support SARC and its volunteers who are willing to risk everything. Will you help us?