300,000 remain trapped in eastern Aleppo despite humanitarian corridors

In this file photo taken on June 8, 2016, provided by the Syrian Civil Defense Directorate in Liberated Province of Aleppo, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian civil defense workers, right, helps an injured woman after warplanes attacked a street, in Aleppo, Syria. (Civil Defense Directorate in Liberated Province of Aleppo via AP, File)

The Syrian regime and Russia announced Saturday the opening of four new humanitarian corridors to help civilians and unarmed rebels flee eastern Aleppo, Syria, which has been under siege since July 17 when the regime took the sole supply road into the area. As fighting rages on, similar corridors have proved unsafe for civilians, with some people calling them “corridors of death.” Aid groups report that there is little evidence that anyone is using existing corridors.

Up to 300,000 civilians are trapped in eastern Aleppo, and over the past three weeks fighting has intensified. “Women, children, the elderly and the wounded are paying the highest price,” Evita Mouawad, humanitarian affairs adviser in Amman at Doctors Without Borders (MSF), told Humanosphere.

Opposition activists have expressed doubts over the joint Russian-Syrian regime plan, saying that only a handful of people have used the corridors. During her conversations with field staff, Mouawad said that Doctors Without Borders wasn’t “able to get confirmed cases of civilians who were able to use the corridors.”

Casey Harrity, Mercy Corps’ director of programs for North Syria told Humanosphere that, “although the announcement was made, we haven’t seen any movement through these so-called corridors.”

When organizations have been able to access them, the safety of these routes has been called into question.

“How can you expect people to want to walk through a corridor, while there is shelling, bombing and fighting?” said Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, in a statement. “How do you expect convoys of humanitarian aid to actually reach those people if there is shelling and bombing from the air and from the ground?”

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Even before Castello Road was closed, “there were 20 to 50 civilians every day dying on the main road in and out of Aleppo. Even ambulances trying to pass along that road were targeted,” Ahmad Mahmoud, a spokesman for Islamic Relief, said in a news release. He called the battle for Aleppo a “shame of humanity.”

While organizations such as Doctors Without Borders “are open to any suggestion that would relieve the suffering of the people stuck in Aleppo,” Mouawad said, “the creation of these corridors should not also justify the continued, indiscriminate bombing of civilian and health facilities.”

Doctors Without Borders “usually send[s]shipments of supplies that can last for three months,” Mouawad said. Their last shipment was delivered at the end of April, and they have since been unable to send medical supplies into Aleppo, leaving hospitals to face closures and patients without treatment and vital medicine.

Organizations working in Aleppo are eager to gain access to the city, with “supplies running out by August,” said Harrity. “If access isn’t granted soon, a situation that is rapidly deteriorating would become even more dire.”

Before the siege of Aleppo started in early July, organizations such as Islamic Relief “were able to bring supplies into the city,” including “emergency medical supplies, drugs, drinking water, hygiene items, flour and food parcels,” Mahmoud said in a news release.

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But patients are “now living with the continuous uncertainty that they don’t know when their medical supplies will run out,” Mouawad said.

During the U.N. conference on Friday, Mistura said that “the commodities probably available in eastern Aleppo, are sufficient for maximum three weeks.” Halfway through July, UNOCHA claimed that it only had enough food for 145,000 people for a month.

As the violence increases, so, too, does the difficulty for humanitarian organizations to react to the crisis. With medical supplies due to run out and hospitals stretched past their limits, Mouawad fears that “health services, whether it’s emergency or non-emergency services, will eventually be unavailable.”

Mahmoud is fearful of what the next few weeks hold. “If this problem is not solved soon it will be a huge catastrophe,” he said in the news release.

Access to Aleppo is the No. 1 priority for relief organizations, though more must be done to ensure that long-term access routes for aid to pass into the city are maintained. While corridors are seen as relief for NGOs working in Aleppo, Harrity is keen to stress that “the humanitarian corridors are not substitutes for sustained access.”

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Charlie Ensor

Charlie Ensor is a Nairobi-based freelance journalist, focusing on refugee rights, development and humanitarian crises in East Africa. His work has also featured on the Guardian and WhyDev; he also writes his own blog on development and aid issues. Charlie tweets @charlieensor, and you can contact him at charlieensor1990@googlemail.com