Although Damascus is situated in a country torn by a civil war, normal daily life goes on in many places. Photo: humedica
Interview: „People are tired of the war“
humedica talks to intervention team member Professor Stiegler
The violent conflicts in Syria now entered their fifth year. But despite thousands of casualties and nearly 12 millions of refugees today there is no end in sight for the fighting, not even for a de-escalation of the situation.
To get an objective picture of the situation on site and to sound out potential relief measures for the inhabitants of the civil war country, the longstanding humedica intervention team member Prof. Heinrich Stiegler accompanied the humedica general manager Wolfgang Groß to the Syrian capital Damascus in August. In the following interview Prof. Stiegler discusses the present situation in the country and explains how relief aid can function in a country ravaged by civil war.
Although it is situated in a country torn by civil war, the Syrian capital Damascus is again and again described as a comparatively quiet place. Can you confirm this impression after having travelled there yourself?
Yes and no. The war in Damascus is kind of asymmetric. There are no typical front lines visible such as destruction along the major battle lines, but instead random missile attacks take place. Imagine that somewhere in Damascus missiles strike, due to their restricted size they cause destruction and sometimes also fatal injuries in a limited area, but life goes on immediately afterwards. People clean up, sit outside and continue to smoke their pipes. They are incredibly calm. You simply can not compare the situation in Damascus to the dreadful images from Aleppo.
At the big celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mariam which took place the 15th of August during our visit, I did not gain the impression that fear impaired the cheerfulness of the people. We felt safe and were not kept from a stroll in the city, where we were greeted friendly everywhere. We did not meet any tourists, though. Missiles are not the only indications of a war going on and it surely does not hurt to be on good terms with your guardian angel.
What were the main concerns of the Syrians you met on your trip?
Naturally I can only talk for the people in Damascus and not those, who live in the combat zones, but to me it seemed that many Syrians wish for an end of the outside interferences and, of course, for an end of the battles. All people we got to know explained to us that before the war, life had been worth living and now everything has changed to the worse. Typical for such a situation is the light traffic between Beirut and Damascus – the unmistakable sign for a difficult economic situation. Also the declining incomes cause problems. Today an engineer for example earns no more than 100 Euro a month instead of 800 Euro as before.
People tend to think in perspectives, but of course it is difficult to see prospects during a war. When you look into the faces of the soldiers at the military controls points, you imagine to see their weariness, that they have enough of all that war. For sure many of them have been to the “real” frontlines and now suffer from a trauma.
Does humedica plan new relief operations in Syria?
In the first instance we will continue to support the people, who fled to the Lebanon. In particular we need to care for the children to prevent the rise of lost generation. This generation must help to build up the country again, but this will not be possible, if nobody takes care of the children now. The relief operations in the Lebanon therefore are a real blessing for the refugees.
But humedica also helps on site in Syria. In the course of our trip we could visit a recently constructed hospital, which humedica will provide with all the necessary equipment to treat ill and injured Christians and Moslems as best as possible. It is clear that all aid measures in Syria can “only” be symptomatic. The central solution of the problems must be found politically.
Key word “symptomatic”. What do you think, how can relief aid basically work in a country, which is ravaged by civil war?
Obviously in very different ways. In Aleppo, where street fighting takes place, only a politically negotiated ceasefire can help to protect the people. There it is necessary to create reception camps in pacified zones, where a whole new infrastructure including a school and medical facilities must be installed. What is possible in the Lebanon should also be possible in Syria with the help of important states.
And when the guns fall finally silent, aid organisation such as humedica can spring into action and engage in reconstruction and medical care. To my opinion this is also a way to show refugees that to flee entails a whole lot of other problems.
What does differ the relief work in Syria from that in other countries such as Benin, where you realise support operations successfully for years now?
You can not compare Benin to Syria. You can only start to hint at the differences. In Benin prevails peace, also when the many Boko Haram sympathisers present a certain potential for discord. The infrastructure in Syria is much better, at least in Damascus, it has a much better starting position for development in case of a ceasefire. But the divergences are so large, these two worlds are so different, that you could write a whole book about them.
So what can Germans do to help the people in Syria?
One reasonable way to help are of course donations, which are used directly to improve the situation of the affected people. These also support the people, who engage personally in the country. E.g. the patriarch Gregorius III., whom we paid a visit during our journey. He puts himself out to help the suffering people and is able to bring significant positive benefit. Our time in Syria was quite intensive, but it is important to meet in person the people concerned. Who has reservations to do so, can still help financially.
Thank you so much for these insights. All the best for you!
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Note: The comments made in the course of the interview above reflect the personal opinion of humedica intervention team member Professor Stiegler. They do not necessarily represent the view of the aid agency humedica.