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Seven years is too long in Syria - Opinion

There are 400,000 people trapped in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the Damascus. Another day in the seven-year-Syrian war. Another tragic siege.

Red Cross aid, including food and medical supplies make it through the fighting to help tens of thousands trapped in the besieged town of Eastern Ghouta near the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Photos: ICRC

A young child, Nadia, is whisked into a Red Cross Red Crescent ambulance. She has leukaemia and is one of 29 people, all with life-threatening illness, who are evacuated from Eastern Ghouta, Syria. Nadia is one of the lucky few. She escapes with her life to the safety of a hospital in the capital, Damascus.

There are 400,000 people trapped in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the Damascus. Another day in the seven-year-Syrian war. Another tragic siege.

Over recent days, hundreds have died in the fighting. Even more have been injured. Children are trapped under rubble in hospital beds. Just when they are freed, another missile lands. More senseless pain, death and destruction.

How can six hospitals and medical centres in Eastern Ghouta be bombed. Surely this is against human decency?

This is not just about immediate death, injury and destruction. What about the longer term impact on access to health care in Eastern Ghouta? What about all of the other Syrians who bear the brunt of this ugly war, including those who will not be able to access medication, or medical attention? 

While the resolution of this conflict may not be easy, there are easy solutions for the protection of health care. 

First and foremost, the laws of war must be respected. There are limits: civilians cannot be targeted. Hospitals must not be bombed.

Medical and humanitarian workers must not be targeted as they deliver humanitarian aid. The wounded and sick and must receive health care, to the fullest extent possible and with the least possible delay.

How can six hospitals and medical centres in Eastern Ghouta be bombed while the world stands by watching? Have seven years of brutal war made us numb to the pain and suffering?

As the images flick across our TV screens, will Ghouta be another turning point in history, when the world wakes up and is galvanised into action, such as when a lifeless three-year-old Kurdish boy, Alan, washed up on a Turkish beach three years ago?

He was one of five million people who fled Syria hoping for a safer future.

Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for five years. Yet recent fighting has cut all supplies; food, water and medicines for the resilient people still trapped.

While a political solution is urgently sought for Syria, there must be free, open and safe access for humanitarian organisations to provide aid. 

There have been negotiations by fighting parties to create a ‘humanitarian corridor’ providing safe passage of aid and civilians.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says if there are to be humanitarian corridors, they must be well planned and put in place with the consent of all sides involved in this conflict. It’s the only way that people can leave safely, if they choose to do so.

The ICRC, in partnership with Syrian Arab Red Crescent, plays a unique role in taking life-saving aid across frontlines in Syria. Experience shows that five hours of ceasefire is not enough. Our colleagues in Syria know that it may take up to one day to simply pass checkpoints, despite agreement of all groups involved.

In recent years there have been many areas of Syria under siege. Yet we have seen that dialogue can earn trust, with strong results: there were just five aid deliveries across conflict lines in 2015; the following year there were 56 such aid operations across the frontlines.

If civilians want to leave Eastern Ghouta, all measures must be taken to allow them to move safely. They need to be provided with aid and shelter. We must take action.

All civilians who remain in Ghouta must be protected from further attacks. It is essential that life-saving humanitarian supplies be allowed in immediately.

The world’s attention has been drawn to Ghouta at a critical stage. Solutions are desperately being sought. Anything that gives civilians a break from the endless bombs and gunfire is welcome.

We have a duty to ensure that children like Nadia have medicines and vaccinations. Their parents and grandparents need blankets and warm clothes to protect them from the bitter cold. Many have run out of food; many cannot access health care.

We must ensure that their basic needs are met. Humanity can be at its best. The people of Syria need an urgent solution.

You can support the people of Syria by donating to the Red Cross Syria Crisis Appeal -

Judy Slatyer is Chief Executive Officer, Australian Red Cross

The article first appeared in the Melbourne Herald Sun