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A first opportunity to visit a besieged city in Syria

By Pam Riley, Country Representative for the Canadian Red Cross in Syria
 
Visiting Deir es Zor, as the second largest of the 14 governorates in Syria, was memorable for a number of reasons. Deir es Zor is 452 kms or a six-hour drive from Damascus; on the way, we passed countless villages and towns that had been deserted because of the conflict that raged for more than three years.
Seeing destruction throughout the besieged city
Arriving in Deir es Zor, the destruction is breathtaking. It is not unlike other locations we have visited, particularly Douma in Eastern Ghouta, but shocking just the same. Most of the city is destroyed, with only two neighbourhoods remaining. Rebuilding will take a generation.

This is a first opportunity for the Canadian Red Cross to visit the city since it was besieged, leaving the population cut off from electricity, telecommunications and most importantly, humanitarian aid. The goal of the visit is to assess the current situation, including the nutritional needs of the population, with the intention to open a nutrition department in the existing Syrian Arab Red Crescent clinic.

During the conflict, the Syrian Red Crescent was the only organisation able to move freely in the streets and provide support to the people.  They managed all food air drops by the World Food Program and medications from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as the conflict raged around them.  Often this humanitarian assistance comes at great cost and great risk; more than 60 Red Crescent colleagues have been killed while providing assistance. 

Currently the Syrian Red Crescent is assisting 24,500 households in Deir es Zor. Without this support, many would not be able to survive.  We were able to see one of the distributions of food parcels in progress and it was clear the need was great. People are returning to the city but do not have the means to be fully self-sufficient, so supporting the Syrian Red Crescent to provide these services is as crucial as ever.

The Syrian Red Crescent clinic has internal medicine, a midwife, pediatrics, emergency dental, a laboratory and a pharmacist, where medications are provided free of charge. In total, the clinic sees approximately 3,500 patients per month.

Distributing aid to those still in the besieged cityThe Canadian Red Cross, with funding from the Government of Canada, will support the nutrition team of a paediatrician, nutritionist and three volunteers who will work on community outreach and nutrition surveillance, referring identified malnutrition cases to the clinic for treatment.  This is similar to support Canadian Red Cross provides across Syria with the Syrian Red Crescent.

The team will be trained on the international protocols for the treatment of malnutrition, so they can effectively screen all children under 5, pregnant and lactating women and other suspected cases. The Canadian Red Cross will supply the nutritional supplements and technical support will be provided by the Syrian Red Crescent Maternal and Child Health Coordinator and the Canadian Red Cross Regional Health Delegate. This centre will be the eleventh one out of the 12 planned to have a fully integrated nutrition department.

With such large needs, we are as advancing this support in Deir es Zor as quickly as possible to provide aid alongside partner Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, including the German Red Cross, Danish Red Cross, ICRC, Finnish Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, to bring much needed support to the population in Deir es Zor who have suffered tremenously the last 7 years.

The donations received to the Syria Crisis Appeal are an essential and much needed element of continuing this humanitarian assistance across Syria.
 
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