News Features - Regional Report


ICRC issues a special report on civilian casualties of urban warfare

In June the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a hardhitting report ‘I Saw My City Die’.

The report reveals fi ve times more civilians die in offensives carried out in cities than in other battles. It also found that between 2010 and 2015, nearly half of all civilian war deaths worldwide occurred in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the main focus countries of the report.

It opens with this introduction: “War is back in cities. This new report from the ICRC vividly shows how we are witnessing a profound change in the history of armedconfl ict which sees towns and cities locked in entrenched patterns of urban warfare for years at a time. Government forces and non-State armed groups are fi ghting street-to-street in a mix of aerial bombardment, artillery, smart weapons, infantry assault, suicide bombing, car bombs and improvised explosive devices. Civilians are in the middle of it all.”

The report gives an important voice to those civilians caught in the crossfi re. It enables them to tell of their shocking, horrendous ordeals. It also provides recommendations to prevent and alleviate the suffering in this urban warfare that has engulfed Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

“Over the past three years, our research shows that wars in cities accounted for a shocking 70% of all civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria,” said the ICRC’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Robert Mardini. “This illustrates just how deadly these battles have become. This is all the more alarming as new offensives get underway in cities like Raqqa in Syria, or intensify in Mosul, Iraq. A new scale of urban suffering is emerging, where no oneand nothing is spared by the violence.”

The research findings are based on preliminary analysis of battle trends and data over the past three years in Iraq and Syria. The report includes testimony from residents in Syria’s Aleppo, Iraq’s Mosul and Yemen’s Taiz, and expert analysis. It vividly illustrates the effects of siege warfare, the use of explosive weapons and the extensive damage caused to key infrastructure.

The conflicts in these countries have resulted in internal displacement and migration levels unprecedented since WWII. More than 17 million Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis have fled their homes. And these battles risk becoming even more protracted if real political solutions are not found soon. Wars in cities are so devastating because of the way in which they are being fought. Armed parties are failing to distinguish between military objectives and civilian infrastructure – or worse, they are using or directly targeting them.

“It’s beholden on those with power to act. Warring sides must realise the fullimpact the fighting has on the people they ultimately hope to govern. Will the victors be able to keep the peace if people feel they have respected neither the law nor the basic humanity of local citizens? The consequences of this violence will resonate for generations and there is the very real danger that cities experiencing these conflicts will simply act as incubators for further violence in the future,”said Mardini. “States supporting parties to conflict must also do their utmost to restrain their allies and ensure better respect for international humanitarian law. And once the guns fall silent, it is local people and organisations which must play a full part in the rebuilding of the communities.”

The report also considers Lebanon’s 15-year civil war and examines the lessons Beirut can offer to help ensure the recovery of urban communities after such overwhelming and protracted violence.

Download ‘I Saw My City Die’

Yemen facts

The population of Yemen is 27 million people. An estimated:

• 14 million people are food insecure. 7 million people are severely food insecure.

• 3.3 million people are acutely malnourished.

• 14 million people lack access to adequate quantities of safe water or sanitation services.

• 14 million people lack adequate healthcare, and only 45% of health facilities are functioning.

• Over 160 health structures were attacked since 2015 and reported to the ICRC.

• The price of medicine is beyond the reach of average citizens




ICRC president issues urgent plea to end war in Yemen

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross issued this statement:

I am leaving Yemen profoundly concerned for the plight of its people. The cholera outbreak remains alarming. With the rainy season approaching, we expect more than 600,000 cases by the end of the year.

This is unprecedented. This outbreak is manmade. It is a direct consequence of more than two years of warfare. The health care system has collapsed, with people dying from easily-treatable chronic diseases. Key services like garbage disposal have ceased to function, as I saw all too clearly in Taiz.

Unless the warring parties improve their respect of the laws of war, I am afraid we must expect more epidemics in the future.

Yemenis are resilient people, but how much more must they resist? We have seen, in Syria and elsewhere, how two years of conflict turns into six, ten. Yemen’s fate can be different, but I see few signs of hope. The suffering of its people only grows in intensity. I’ve met families forced to make impossible choices about whether to buy bread, water or medicine for their children.

Thousands of people have been detained by parties to the conflict, languishing in prison unable to contact their loved ones. Yesterday, some of their families protested outside our offices in Sana’a, demanding answers. Their wellbeing is our priority, but to help them we must be allowed to visit detainees.

I’ve seen for myself this week how war is destroying cities, communities and families.

This, then, is an urgent plea for behaviours to change. It is imperative that parties to the conflict stop the attacks on hospitals, and electricity and water plants. Otherwise, more tragedy will ensue.

The warring parties, including coalition states, should take concrete steps, now, to alleviate the situation. They must

  • Stop holding humanitarian action hostage to political ends. Instead, facilitate the flow of aid - and essential supplies like medicine - into and across Yemen
  • Guarantee access for humanitarian agencies to the most vulnerable populations
  • Give the ICRC regular access to all conflict-related detainees. We received encouraging commitments from both sides this week, and hope these will materialize in the weeks to come.
  • Ease import restrictions so economic activity can resume

Moreover, others providing support to the warring parties in Yemen have the responsibility for making sure the laws of war are respected.

Humanitarian funding is more needed than ever. But the international community must go a step further. It must actively seek out solutions to this enormous crisis, and wield influence over the behaviour of warring parties as a matter of urgency.

The ICRC has doubled its Yemen budget this year to over US$100 million. We will continue to fight cholera and do all we can to help the most vulnerable people in Yemen. I call on others to step up their efforts and do likewise. The people I met this week in Yemen are counting on us to come to their aid. Let us prove to them


Cholera count reaches 500,000 in Yemen

The total number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen this year hit the half a million mark by mid-August, according to the WHO. Nearly 2000 people have died since the outbreak began to spread rapidly at the end of April.

The overall caseload nationwide has declined since early July, particularly in the worst affected areas. But suspected cases of the deadly waterborne disease continue to rage across the country, infecting an estimated 5000 people per day.

The spread of cholera has slowed significantly in some areas compared to peak levels but the disease is still spreading fast in more recently affected districts, which are recording large numbers of cases.

Yemen’s cholera epidemic, currently the largest in the world, has spread rapidly due to deteriorating hygiene and sanitationconditions and disruptions to the water supply across the country. Millions of people are cut off from clean water, and waste collection has ceased in major cities.

A collapsing health system is struggling to cope, with more than half of all health facilities closed due to damage, destruction or lack of funds. Shortages in medicines and supplies are persistent and widespread and 30,000 critical health workers have not been paid salaries in nearly a year.

“Yemen’s health workers are operating in impossible conditions. Thousands of people are sick, but there are not enough hospitals, not enough medicines, not enough clean water. These doctors and nurses are the backbone of the health response – without them we can do nothing in Yemen. They must be paid their wages so that they can continue to save lives,” said Dr Tedros AdhanomGhebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

WHO and partners are working around the clock to set up cholera treatment clinics, rehabilitate health facilities, deliver medical supplies, and support the national health response effort.

More than 99% of people sick with suspected cholera who can access health services are surviving. Furthermore, nearly 15 million people are unable to get basic healthcare.

“To save lives in Yemen today we must support the health system, especially the health workers. And we urge the Yemeni authorities – and all those in the region and elsewhere who can play a role – to find a political solution to this conflict that has already caused so much suffering. The people of Yemen cannot bear it much longer – they need peace to rebuild their lives and their country,” said Dr Tedros.

WHO calls for funding to fight measles in Somalia

As millions of people in Somalia remain trapped in a devastating cycle of hunger and disease, WHO and health partners are working with national health authorities to save lives and reach the most vulnerable with essential health services.

The WHO issued a statement on 16 August saying it urgently requires US$6.8 million to scale up its response activities in Somalia and conduct a measles immunization campaign for 4.2 million children in November 2017. As of the statement date, no funding had been received.

More than two years of insufficient rainfall and poor harvests have led to drought, food insecurity and a real risk of famine. Malnutrition, mass displacement as a result of the drought, and lack of access to clean water and sanitation have created ideal conditions for infectious disease outbreaks.

“Somalia is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Millions of people, already on the brink of famine, are now at risk of rapidly spreading infectious diseases like cholera and measles. Normally, these diseases are easy to treat and prevent, but they can turn deadly when people are living inovercrowded spaces and are too weak to fight off infection,” said Dr Ghulam Popal, WHO Representative in Somalia.

Drought has led to a lack of clean water and the largest cholera outbreak in the last 5 years, with more than 57,000 cases and 809 cumulative deaths reported as of 31 July 2017. Health partners, together with national health authorities, scaled up its efforts to respond to this event by setting up cholera treatment centres in affected districts and providing support in water and sanitation to prevent the spread of the disease. In March, WHO and partners conducted Somalia’s first national oral cholera vaccination campaign, and successfully reached over 450,000 vulnerable people. Due to ongoing efforts, the number of cholera cases in Somalia has declined, from 13,656 cases of acute watery diarrhoea/cholera in May 2017 to 11,228 cases in June 2017.

Somalia is also facing its worst measles outbreak in 4 years, with over 14,823 suspected cases reported in 2017 (as of 31 July), compared to 5000–10,000 cases per year since 2014. The situation is especially criticalfor millions of under-vaccinated, weak and hungry children who are more susceptible to contracting infectious diseases. More than 80% of those affected by the current outbreak are children under 10 years of age.

In early 2017, WHO and partners, in collaboration with national health authorities, vaccinated almost 600,000 children aged 6 months to 5 years for measles in hard-toreach and hotspot areas across the country. Despite these efforts, the transmission of measles continues, compounded by the ongoing pre-famine situation, continued mass displacement, and undernourished children living in unhygienic conditions.

Campaign planned
In order to contain the outbreak, a nationwide campaign is planned for November 2017 to stop transmission of the disease, targeting 4.2 million children. The campaign will also intensify efforts to strengthen routine immunization and reach unvaccinated children to boost their immunity. As shown by the response to the cholera outbreak, with the right interventions, health authorities are confident that similar success may be seen in controlling the measles outbreak.



Date of upload: 17th Sep 2017

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