Damascus: Marking the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF are calling for concerted international action in response to the devastating health consequences of explosive hazards in Syria.
More than eight million people are exposed to explosive hazards in Syria, including over three million children, a WHO Eastern Mediterranean region report on Thursday said.
In 2017, at least 910 children were killed and 361 children were maimed in Syria, including by explosive remnants of war and victim-activated improvised explosive devices.
In the first two months of 2018 alone, 1,000 children were reportedly killed or injured in intensifying violence.
The situation in Ar-Raqqa city is of particular concern. An estimated 2,00,000 children, women, and men have returned to the city and outskirts since last October. These families are at tremendous risk of being killed or maimed by explosive hazards that litter the city.
At least 658 people were reportedly injured and more than 130 killed by landmines, booby traps and unexploded ordnance in Ar-Raqqa city from 20 October 2017 to 23 February 2018 – an average of 6 blast wound incidents per day.
''Explosive hazards are having devastating health consequences in Syria, especially in Ar-Raqqa, where people are being killed or terribly injured almost every day,'' said Elizabeth Hoff, WHO Representative in Syria. “Demining activities need to be accelerated as a matter of urgency, and much more support is needed to help injured Syrians recover.
Only two private hospitals are currently functioning in Ar-Raqqa city. The nearest public hospital is more than 100 kilometres away in Tal Abyad.
Initially, most of the blast injuries in Ar-Raqqa were reportedly among young adult males returning to check on their homes immediately after the fighting. But injuries and deaths among children are now on the rise as families return to their homes, despite the dangers posed by explosive hazards.
''Because of the high contamination with unexploded remnants of war and victim-activated improvised explosive devices, children and families returning to their homes in conflict-ridden areas across Syria are faced with life-threatening risks,'' said Alessandra Dentice, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Syria.
''In addition to mine clearance actions in Ar-Raqqa, much more needs to be done to shield children and their families from explosive risks. Mine risk education is key to protecting children by helping them and their families recognize and report explosive hazards,'' Dentice said.
Explosive hazard contamination is also a danger in parts of Aleppo, Dara’a, Rural Damascus, Idlib, and Deir-ez-Zor governorates.
UNICEF is supporting mine risk education across Syria in schools, collective shelters and community centres to teach children and caregivers safe methods to identify and protect themselves against
explosive ordnance. In 2017, more than 1.8 million children and 100,000 caregivers received mine risk education. (UNI)