Issa,* 7, stands in the damaged neighborhood in Al Raqqa where he lives, June 2021. Credit: Muhannad Khaled/Save the Children.
Four Years after the Battle for Al Raqqa, Children are Living among Ruins—Save the Children
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (July 26, 2021)—Children in Al Raqqa, North East Syria, are still living among ruins, with limited water, electricity, and access to education, four years after the city was taken from ISIS, according to a new report by Save the Children.
Thousands of people have returned or moved to Al Raqqa since the battle ended in 2017, and the report estimates that 270,000-330,000 people are currently living there. But levels of rebuilding and rehabilitation of housing remain low, with children living in constant fear of their homes collapsing on top of them. Earlier research estimated that 36 percent of the city’s buildings remained entirely destroyed.
The report published today, ‘“I Must Live Amidst the Rubble”: Inclusive Recovery in Al Raqqa,’ found:
- In four years there has been little rehabilitation of the city that at the peak of the bombing campaign faced 150 airstrikes a day, leaving children living in damaged homes and with nowhere to learn or play but among ruins;
- Three quarters of Al Raqqa’s population are reliant on support to buy food and other basic goods and services;
- Eighty percent of the city’s schools are still damaged, as the conflict and its aftermath have decimated the entire education sector;
- The worst drought in nine years in North East Syria has led to a lack of access to clean water for families in Al Raqqa, creating a public health crisis with a reported increase in waterborne diseases and challenges in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Twenty-seven-year-old Aida* fled Aleppo nine years ago when the conflict forced her from her town. In 2015, her husband was killed in bombing. She now lives with her four children in a destroyed house in Al Raqqa, without water or electricity.
She said: “I’m really scared that one day the walls will fall on my children, the structure is in a very bad condition. There’s no running water or electricity and it would cost so much to work in extending these lines again or patching the house up.
“I get scared when my children go outside because they might get hurt, so I do not let them go out. They stay within the house perimeters. They are not allowed to move further away. There is a destroyed building here and I’m afraid there will be something [like a landmine] underneath. You never know. I keep them away from it.”
Sonia Khush, Syria Response Director for Save the Children, said:
“Ten years of war have precipitated a mental health crisis for children and their families. But in Al Raqqa, it is not even safe for children to do basic activities that help them forget about what they’ve been through, find enjoyment in life and prepare for the future, such as going to school or playing with their friends. Children are at risk of injury and death even from doing nothing but sitting home in the rubble.”
Ten years of conflict, economic crisis, and other factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic have escalated needs across Syria. As of May 2021, Al Raqqa sub-district—which includes Al Raqqa city—had the highest proportion of households with poor or borderline food consumption. Some 80 percent of the families in Al Raqqa surveyed by Save the Children have resorted to desperate measures, such as buying food on credit and taking their children out of school to work, in order to meet basic needs.
For families who can just about afford to send their children to school, there are more disruptions. About 80 percent of Al Raqqa’s school buildings have been destroyed, and rehabilitation has started in just a quarter of them.
Twelve-year-old Yaseen,* who lives in a partially demolished building with his four siblings and his parents, said:
“We started studying in a destroyed school, half of it was destroyed. Two classes would study in one classroom. Then we left the school and went to another one because they demolished the other school and rebuilt it again.”
Many teachers fled in 2017 and have not yet returned, and local authorities are finding it difficult to attract qualified staff back to the city. As a result, many teachers lack qualifications and professional training.
Sonia Khush said: “Four years on from the intensity of the battle in Al Raqqa, children and their families live in and navigate rubble, damage and risk every day, much of it caused by airstrikes by the Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The Coalition’s members include some of the largest donors to Syria’s humanitarian response. They bear responsibility to subsequently address the consequences of their military action. Needs-based humanitarian assistance, independent of military and security objectives is urgently needed.
“Children and their families in Al Raqqa live every day in a ruined city, with limited options, amid drought, pandemic and a Syria-wide economic crisis. Substantive humanitarian responses, responding to the complexity of the needs, remain limited. In the circumstances children face, and with their parents’ fears for their future, it is vital that they and all humanitarian donors step up to ensure that basic services are restored and opportunities are provided, to give children the chance of a brighter future after all they have endured over the course of Syria’s conflict.”
*Name has been changed
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