Inside Syria: An Eyewitness Account from Homs
Shuttered schools, relentless shelling, a deserted hospital, mothers who fear for their children as winter approaches: These are what UNICEF emergency specialist Abdulkadir Musse encountered on his mission to assess the humanitarian situation in Al Waer, Syria, on the outskirts of war-torn Homs last week. Below are excerpts from his account of the visit.
I was last in Al Waer in May 2013. More buildings have been destroyed since then, with more piles of rubble strewn about. With no one to collect it, garbage is piling up in the streets contributing to the spread of diseases. Many children are bearing the marks of insect bites.
Al Waer has been the scene of regular shelling over the past two weeks ... The shelling effectively stopped during our three-hour visit, bringing a brief respite to the residents. After we left, the calm was shattered with renewed sounds of shelling.
I visited a shelter in an unfinished building ... People sleep on mats on the floor and many windows and doors are open to the outside, which becomes a serious concern with the approach of winter.
The biggest concen for mothers I met was the safety of their children amid the shelling. This particular shelter is close to the front lines and could be hit at any time.
Winter was another major issue, with a need for children’s winter clothing; “How are we going to keep the children clean during winter if there is no hot water?” one mother asked.
A hospital that was full of patients on my last visit is now practically deserted ... Medical supplies are limited. A third of medical staff has left the area, while remaining staff are hardly able to report to work because of the dangers in moving around. The hospital is on the point of closing.
UNICEF supports two mobile health teams, which visit shelters daily .... Around 72,000 children have been reached since the teams started work in March.
Of the 11 schools in Al Waer, which used to support 70,000 children, 10 are being used as shelters for displaced families. The single operating school serves around 2,000 children ... Other children learn in the yard or open veranda of schools, where they are exposed to the increasingly cold temperatures and stray bullets which have already wounded some students.
Al Waer presents extraordinary challenges ... but we and our partners are committed to continue to help children facing such desperate conditions.
Learn more about the challenges Syria's children face to stay in school and survive a cold winter. Support UNICEF's efforts to keep these children warm.