Last updated: 15 February, 2013

Plight of Syrian civilians catastrophic, says Red Cross

The plight of civilians in conflict-ravaged Syria has now reached catastrophic levels, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday, adding that it was having trouble reaching those in need.

“I’ve come back from Syria convinced that we can and must expand operations there over coming months,” ICRC Director of Operations Pierre Kraehenbuehl told reporters after a mission there.

“After two years with no end to the military conflict, the situation of the civilian population has reached nothing short of catastrophic,” he said.

“There is no respite.”

The ICRC has been aiding some 1.5 million Syrians, via the Syrian Arab Crescent, in a conflict that the UN says has left some 70,000 people dead.

On Thursday, the US said the death toll may have reached 90,000, citing figures from Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister.

“The situation is becoming worse and worse every day,” warned Walter Cotte, under secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Kraehenbuehl said medical services had turned into a “wasteland” in many parts of the country, displaced families were forced to change location repeatedly, and water and food supplies were under constant threat.

A major problem for aid operations is crisscrossing the frontline between government and rebel areas.

“Syria is not a case where you can map out a frontline easily. It shifts,” Kraehenbuehl said.

United Nations aid agencies and international charity groups have repeatedly underscored the problems they face reaching Syrians in need.

But the Red Cross, traditionally seen as a neutral player, has endeavoured to get to all areas requiring help, whoever controls them.

“We are about the only organisations that are able to work across the frontlines in Syria,” Cotte said.

“We are doing a lot, but we are not doing enough. This is the reality in Syria.”

Another major concern is an inability to visit those captured, which is a major plank of the ICRC’s work in war zones to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners.

Kraehenbuehl said the ICRC had been unable to visit any detention facilities since May, and was pressing Syrian authorities on the issue.

“This would be very worrying in any country, and is certainly a question of grave concern in Syria,” he said.

The United Nations has warned of “crisis fatigue” among developed nations after two years of fighting between the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels.

It has also said the number of Syrians who have fled the country could hit 1.1 million by June.