1 March 2016 - I complete this visit to Syria, together with Dr. Peter Salama, Unicef Regional Director, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of this war. My previous trip came on the eve of the third anniversary, two years of suffering ago. Now, the cessation of hostilities offers the Syrian people the possibility of peace.
Everywhere I have visited - in Damascus, Homs, Hama and Al-Salameya - people spoke of hope. Hope that there will be peace, hope that peace can be found in more than a diplomatic piece of paper, hope that peace will return in their daily lives. The children I met in their class rooms spoke of their hopes for their futures - as doctors, engineers, teachers.
As I crossed the lines into the encircled neighbourhood of Al Waer, I saw things that I had not seen two years ago - shops open for business, people walking freely, children learning in classrooms above ground instead of huddling in basements for fear of snipers. Even in the shattered old city of Homs, people displaced by the fighting are returning.
And importantly, senior government officials in Damascus have agreed that together with WHO and our partners including the Ministry of Health, we can go ahead and immediately plan and seek to implement a nationwide immunization programme against childhood diseases. This will require sustained access in all besieged and hard-to-reach areas, and that both government and armed opposition groups facilitate access to all Syrian children.
But with that hope there were still signs of havoc and harsh evidence of the toll the war has taken on children. Entire neighbourhoods that have been flattened. A children’s centre in Al Waer, formerly an orphanage, was struck by a mortar attack two years ago, killing eight children and injuring 30 more.
In Homs, doctors took me into a surgical ward as they treated a victim who had just been shot in the face by a sniper. The doctors had only old surgical instruments with which to remove pieces of the patient’s shattered jawbone. The anaesthetic medicine was past its expiry date.
The doctors, nurses, and especially the father of the victim, expressed their anger – not only at the Government which continues to deny access to surgical and medical supplies to such areas, but also at the United Nations and the whole world. We can’t blame him - because the world has allowed this suffering to go on for five long years.
With all those we met, together with Hanaa Singer, our Syria Country Representative, we pledged that Unicef will continue to do all we can to support Syria, not only in meeting urgent humanitarian needs, but also in its recovery and development.
Indeed, that development is taking place today. For every time we educate a Syrian child, wherever she may be, we are helping build Syria’s future.
Over the past five years, with our partners such as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, Unicef has reached more than 10 million people, mostly children, with water, health and nutrition services, education and supportive counselling.
But there are so many more children to reach. There are more than eight million children who need assistance: six million inside Syria and more than two million who have fled the violence to neighbouring countries.
We will do our best to meet that challenge.
Notes for editors:
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