Syria: Casualties Soar by Nearly 50 Percent since Creation of So-Called 'De-Escalation Zones'

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (March 12, 2018)— Syria marks seven years of war this week, and the latest figures show at least 37 civilians killed every day since mid-2017 – an increase of 45 percent across Syria since the creation of ‘de-escalation zones’ including in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta.

In Eastern Ghouta, where hundreds of people have been killed in the past few weeks alone, children have been forced to live in basements and makeshift shelters where they are still being killed by bombing and shelling, dying from untreated wounds, preventable illnesses and malnutrition, and suffering from severe toxic stress.

Many children are in constant fear for their lives, regularly on the run, and having their futures slip out of their grasp as schools are attacked and they are forced to drop out.

Save the Children spoke with dozens of aid workers, children, parents, doctors, teachers and youth workers in besieged Eastern Ghouta and northwest Syria as part of a new briefing, Voices from Syria’s Danger Zones.

Four de-escalation zones (DEZ) were announced across Syria in mid-2017, supposedly providing spaces for civilians that would be safe from attack and suggesting the crisis could be nearing its end. Yet recent events show that these zones are far from providing a haven from shelling. New analysis finds that since the zones were announced, there has been:

  • Record levels of displacement, with up to 250 children fleeing every hour – with numbers increasing by 60 percent since the DEZ were announced. The last quarter of 2017 showed the highest rate of displacement inside Syria for the past five years, with more than 1 million people made homeless in three months. [i]
  • Civilian casualties increased by 45 percent – with at least 37 civilians reportedly killed by explosive weapons each day across Syria, the highest rate for several years.[ii]
  • Rising attacks on education - More than 60 schools in Eastern Ghouta have been damaged or destroyed by bombing in the first two months of 2018[iii]. Save the Children-supported schools in northwest Syria report the number of days they have to close due to violence has quadrupled. Education assessments showed children are falling years behind.[iv]
  • A health facility attacked almost every two days – disrupting vital services to thousands of people in need of medical care, surgery or pregnant women about to give birth.[v]
  • Systematic denial of aid: More than 2 million people – half of them children – in areas classified by the UN as ‘hard to reach’ or ‘besieged’ have been prevented from receiving a single aid convoy of vital food and medicine,[vi] causing record levels of child malnutrition and forcing doctors to re-use bandages and needles.

Many young children have grown up under unimaginably traumatic circumstances with insufficient access to affordable food and medical care.

Teachers interviewed in Eastern Ghouta told Save the Children of daily occurrences of children fainting from hunger in the middle of class.

Some parents spoke of only being able to feed their children on alternate days as food prices skyrocket. In besieged Eastern Ghouta, which was once considered one of Syria’s breadbaskets, the price of bread is as much as 16 times as nearby markets.

They told of children unable to sleep due to nightmares and panicking when they heard loud noises. One mother said:

"The thing that scares us most is the warplanes. My little daughter, as soon as a plane comes, she gets a seizure. From being nervous, she gets a seizure and loses consciousness."

One aid worker said he met a boy who had never seen an apple before and was fearful of it. Another ate an unpeeled banana, while some children are known to hide bread in case they run out of food.

Hany*, 11, described the moment his school was attacked in Idlib: "She (the teacher) was standing by the window and she told us that she’d go and get us pens and paper. Before she could do that she was hit in the head and we saw she was dead."

"The children of Syria have been let down by the world for too long— nearly 3 million children have grown up knowing nothing but war," said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. "Despite the recent promises of a ceasefire, children are still being bombed in their homes, schools and hospitals. Families are hiding in basements and have not had access to basic needs like food and medical supplies for months. Aid must never be used as a weapon of war in this way.

"Even the places set up to be safe for civilians, the so-called ‘de-escalation’ zones are now the center of violence. There must be an immediate end to the violence so that aid agencies like ours can deliver lifesaving aid to the hundreds of thousands of children trapped in Eastern Ghouta and other areas affected by conflict."

"The international community cannot stand by and let a generation of children suffer like this. They must use their influence to ensure an immediate ceasefire, and to get the warring parties to finally agree to a lasting end to this violence that has already destroyed so many lives and childhoods," added Miles.

To stop the situation from deteriorating any further, Save the Children urgently calls on governments to:

  • Pressure all parties to the conflict to fully and immediately comply with UN Security Council Resolution 2401 to put an immediate halt to the recent escalation in violence in the areas of Idlib and Eastern Ghouta, enable the safe and unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid and services across Syria, and facilitate medical evacuations of the sick and wounded;
  • Emphasize the failure of de-escalation zones to provide protection for civilians in Syria and urge all parties to seek out a political solution to the crisis; and
  • Ensure those who violate children’s rights are held to account, by calling for independent investigations into all attacks on schools and hospitals and other violations of international humanitarian law.

[i] Based on UN figures

[ii] Based on analysis of monthly Explosive Violence Monitor reports produced by Action on Armed Violence https://aoav.org.uk/category/latest_explosive_violence_monitor_updates/

[iii] Information from Save the Children education partners in Eastern Ghouta

[iv] Save the Children recently assessed 1,178 pupils (558 boys, 620 girls) aged between 5-11 in northwest Syria. The results showed just how far behind many Syrian children have fallen. More than one third of pupils aged 9-11 showed Arabic reading skills lower than what would usually be expected of a 5 or 6 year-old. Seven percent could not even recognise basic letters. Nearly 50% of children aged 9-11 were unable to solve mathematics problems that would normally be taught to 5-6 years old, with some children unable to even recognise the numbers.

[v] Analysis of monthly ‘Monitoring Violence Against Healthcare’ reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Whole of Syria health cluster, https://www.humanitarianresponse.info

[vi] UN OCHA, Syrian Arab Republic, 2017 UN Inter-Agency Operations in Review, January 2018

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