The U.N. and other global rights and health organizations are stepping up warnings about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria after 18 months of armed conflict. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been displaced and many thousands more are now suffering shortages of food, water and sanitation, electricity, medicine and other basic necessities. Dr. Anas Al-Kassem is an Ontario-based trauma surgeon and founder of Canadian Relief for Syria (CRS), a non-profit humanitarian organization which works to channel medical aid and humanitarian supplies to Syrians most in need. He also travels to and from the Turkish border with Syria on a monthly basis, where he performs surgeries on the wounded.
VOA Senior Reporter Cecily Hilleary spoke with Al-Kassem by phone and asked him to describe the situation at ground level. Below are some excerpts from his responses. To hear more of the interview, click on sound file below.
Attending to the living
My concern is that in the media, there is always mention about you know, “100, 200 deaths,” which is a catastrophe, of course. But nobody is talking about the injuries – and the type of injuries. Six months ago, when we used to go there, the type of injuries were mainly gunshots. Well, this was relatively well known to us. We know how to deal with them, we know how to treat them, and we know on the wound care, what the consequence is going to be.
A war zone
But in the last couple of months, because the regime has been using – and that’s why I say this isn’t a civil war; in a civil war, you don’t use aircraft – the regime is using all kinds of aircraft from Russia, all kinds of rockets, and shelling the buildings. We’re seeing more [injured] civilians, of course. We are seeing dramatic injuries I’ve never even seen in my trauma fellowship in Canada. And really, we’re puzzled. Sometimes we don’t know where to start, what to do, how to ‘survive’ these patients. It is getting very, very impossible. It’s a war zone there.
You know, we’ve seen many diarrhea cases because of contamination of water. But it hasn’t spread to say that there is an epidemic in, say, a whole city, in the towns. I haven’t seen this, but I have seen more and more of these cases due to contamination of food, contamination of water, and I think we are going to see more cases in the coming few weeks.
To hear more of the interview with Dr. Anas Al-Kassem, play the audio below.
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for Dubai-TV English. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf regions, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA and MEV a keen understanding of the region's top social, cultural and political issues.