In the week when the UN calls for a more humane world, ShelterBox partner ReliefAid hears a graphic description of the fear and suffering inside war-shattered Aleppo. With 150 air strikes in a day, and aid workers, their families and buildings in constant peril, they warn ‘nowhere is safe’.
The United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day is held every year on August 19 to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, and to mobilize people to advocate for a more humane world.
It falls as the Syrian city of Aleppo is still crumbling under continuous bombing, its people barely coping with a lack of electricity, clean water, fuel or affordable food.
New Zealand-based ReliefAid has a team based in Aleppo, many of them with their families. Like two million others who remain in Aleppo, they are now trapped in a besieged city amid escalating fighting.
Executive Director of ReliefAid Mike Seawright is in Turkey, and in constant touch with his team in Aleppo. Today he told Larry Williams of New Zealand’s Newstalk ZB radio station, ‘Yesterday alone my team reported 150 air strikes. I talk to my team on a daily basis, and they are part of the community. Their homes are getting hit, their markets are getting attacked. Last week our office was hit in a strike that was targeting the building next door.’
‘They hit the building beside us, and the effect of that is that we’ve had to move to a new location in the city. And literally two days later there was a gas attack on that neighbourhood. So nowhere is safe.’
And in some cases first responders, for example the ‘white helmets’ who go and get people out of buildings after they’ve been attacked and destroyed, appear to have been deliberately targeted in follow-up attacks. There is no respect for the humanitarian space inside Aleppo city.
Mike reports a conversation with one of the ReliefAid team that paints a bleak picture. ‘My team have families within the city. There has been a complete loss of faith in the international community to react to what has been a systematic campaign to destroy east Aleppo. I was talking to one of my team and his view, which is very pessimistic, is that we are waiting to die. Waiting for our tomb, for when the air strike hits us.’
World Humanitarian Day is marked every year with events held around the world. Under the banner of ‘One Humanity’ the UN and its partners hope to inspire greater global action for the 130 million people affected by conflict and disaster.
In New York a special event will be held at the General Assembly tomorrow from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. Hala Kalim and her four children, whose arduous journey from Aleppo to Germany was featured in the documentary ‘Children of Syria’, will attend. They will tell the world their story of the impossible choices they faced living in, and fleeing, Syria. A wreath-laying ceremony will also be held at the UN Headquarters to honour aid workers who lost their lives in humanitarian service.
ShelterBox, with the assistance of aid partners, continues to provide emergency shelter to families displaced by the crisis. We have been working in countries in the Syrian region, including Jordan, Iraq-Kurdistan and Lebanon. Millions of families have been and remain displaced due to this enormous and complex situation.
Aleppo street after an airstrike. Photo courtesy of ReliefAid.