Translating Humanitarian Emergency into Medical Aid in Syria

Claire Glasscoe


Moving an unexploded bomb out of harm's way

'Bassaym' thought he knew what he was doing when he moved an unexploded bomb that landed in his village in Idleb, next to where people lived and socialised. This was at the beginning of the conflict and he had been concerned that other people, who were less experienced than him would try to move it so he took charge and moved it himself. He lost the use of three limbs when it exploded. But 'Bassaym' is not the sort of person to let that hold him back. He continues to be concerned about his community and talks with me about the challenges they face from explosive munitions raining down from the sky every day. He has a well-reasoned and hands-on community spirit that characterises for me the unsung heroes in the Syrian Civil Defence teams. We discuss how he might help his community develop more knowledge and skills to protect themselves from the dangers of unexploded ordnance.

Stepping on a landmine

By chance, 'Dornaz' happened to live near to the front line between Regime held and rebel held territory in Hama. This was an area close to the actual fighting in April 2015 and fraught with danger. Her extensive family all lived close together as neighbours and supported one another. But when the rockets fell on their homes they instinctively scattered to find shelter. 'Dornaz' did not notice the landmines as she ran across the fields to escape the line of fire between the rival groups. As she sought cover in a ditch one was hidden from sight and then it exploded and blew both her legs off below the knee. Here she and her daughter talk with me about their experiences and what the future holds for them now.

Identification and clearance

All unexploded ordnance (UXO) poses a considerable risk to civilians in Syria. Apparently dud munitions should always be treated as live and avoided wherever possible. Handicap International (HI) is one group active in this area and they advocate Conventional Weapons Risk Reduction (CWRR) working groups to develop a coordinated plan with local community leaders. This plan needs to raise awareness within high-risk groups such as children, displaced people and those retuning to their homes following evacuation as well as those in the most contaminated areas such as Aleppo, Dara'a, Homs, Idleb and Rural Damascus. A concerted program for neutralizing mines and clearing the explosive remnants of this war is urgent. HI has been conducting risk education training and weapons clearance inside Syria since 2013 so far reaching 150,000 people. So what do these programs look like to those participating in them and how much more needs to be done to make it safe for civilians to live in this conflict zone?