At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Field diary: Convoy of emergency supplies reaches Syrian families in conflict-ravaged district

By Michele Al Kaae

On 21 February, UNICEF launches Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) 2014. This global appeal pulls together the combined needs for those living in the most challenging circumstances – whether large-scale emergencies making headlines around the world or less-visible but no less urgent crises that put the lives and well-being of children and women in danger.

With the aim of providing critical assistance to 85 million people, including 59 million children, the HAC 2014 is the largest humanitarian appeal ever made by UNICEF – $2.2 billion in total – reflecting the increased impact of disasters and emergencies on children around the world.

The crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic, approaching its third bitter anniversary, threatens the loss of an entire generation of children. Inside the country, humanitarian access to communities trapped in the conflict remains extremely difficult. And across the region, the refugee crisis continues to grow. 

Recently, Michele Al Kaae was part of a United Nations inter-agency convoy that brought emergency supplies to an area in the Syrian Arab Republic that humanitarian assistance had not been able to reach in months.
UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic /2014/Al Kaae
A boy carries a UNICEF family hygiene kit that has just been delivered to Areha town. Some 13,000 families lived in the town before it was reached by the conflict. According to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the current population is approximately 5,000 families.

AREHA, Idleb Governorate/Tartous, 10 February 2014 – Calm has returned to Areha, a town about 14 km south of Idleb city, but the tell-tale signs of heavy fighting are all too visible.

Thousands of children and families fled the fighting, many traveling to Idleb city. Displaced from their homes and communities, they moved to shelters in schools or other public buildings, or squeezed into the apartments of friends or family.

Last week, I was part of a United Nations inter-agency convoy that brought much-needed emergency supplies to the Areha district, including for nearby Muhambel town. It had been months since humanitarian assistance had been able to get through. Even now that the fighting has stopped in this area, the 22-truck convoy had to take a circuitous route to avoid active ‘hot’ areas.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2014/Al Kaae
Supplies also included blankets, winter clothes, basic water kits and soap. United Nations vehicles drive past the accompanying 22-truck convoy carrying the supplies to conflict-affected families.

No one knows how many people have been displaced, but more than half of the town’s population must have left. While the pre-conflict population of Areha was some 13,000 families, colleagues at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) estimate that the current population is approximately 5,000 families. Some families never left town, but others are trickling back now, checking on their homes and making repairs, if they can. 

The destruction in Areha is particularly severe along the former conflict line, where many buildings have been completely destroyed. Others feature shell holes or are riddled with bullet holes. Many other parts of the town have been damaged.

Half of the trucks in the convoy were filled with UNICEF supplies, sufficient for 2,800 families. Supplies included blankets, winter clothes, hygiene kits for babies and families, basic water kits and soap.

UNICEF, WFP, UNFPA, UNDP, OCHA, UNDSS, UNHCR and IOM all contributed to the mission.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2014/Al Kaae
Children watch as the emergency supplies are offloaded, in Areha. Humanitarian assistance had been cut off from the town for months because of the conflict.

The trucks unloaded their supplies at a warehouse in Areha. Partner organization SARC will handle distribution to affected children and families. Even in this part of town, where buildings are still standing, many bear the scars of small arms fire.

As the unloading of supplies went on, I noticed a number of children walking by carrying UNICEF schoolbags. I spoke to a boy of about 9–10 years of age who told me that he had fled with his family to Idleb city to escape the fighting in Areha. The family stayed with relatives. The boy said he had been able to continue going to school while displaced in Idleb and had been given his UNICEF schoolbag, which contained stationery supplies.

With the return of relative calm to Areha, his family had returned home. He said that their house was damaged in the fighting, but they are able to live in it while doing repairs. The boy is back in school in Areha, and his routine is gradually returning to normal.

It was inspiring to be able to be part of a mission that is bringing immediate relief to children and families caught up in the ongoing conflict. These people are really in need. Some have lost their homes and been through the experience of displacement and uncertainty, not knowing when they could return to their community. Others have lost friends and family. It was really encouraging to see many children who are attending school.

This convoy is part of a comprehensive plan to reach mostly hard-to-reach areas with vital emergency supplies. Although the convoy was a success, there remain many challenges in getting relief supplies to the most vulnerable people, many of whom remain inaccessible because of the conflict.


 

 

UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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