The massive destruction caused by armed conflicts in cities can set development indexes back by years and even decades, a press release from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – Philippine Team said.
The press release cited Yemen as an example where conflict there had caused human development indicators – or gauges of quality of life – to dropped to their index of 20 years ago.
“This is a major setback to the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals. Progress gained over decades can be quickly reversed as once lively and prospering population centers turn into ghost towns,” the ICRC said.
The news release also revealed that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, and the President of the ICRC Peter Maurer, alarmed at the “devastating humanitarian consequences of urban warfare”, are jointly appealing parties in armed conflict to “avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area in populated areas”.
The ICRC and the UN, in particular, are referring to the bombing and shelling in areas like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine which have been bombarded by airstrikes, rockets, artillery or improvised explosive devices, with civilians bear the brunt of the assault. Majority of the casualties, the press release said, or close to 90 percent, are civilians.
The latest to join the long list of cities affected by urban warfare are Idlib and Tripoli, joining Mosul, Aleppo, Raqqa, Taiz, Donetsk, Fallujah, and Sana’a.
“They rarely make the top headlines, but they should. War in cities cannot be back-page news. In fact, some 50 million people are currently suffering its impacts,” the press release added.
The ICRC also said it supports efforts of warring states “to develop a political declaration, as well as appropriate limitations, common standards and operational policies in conformity with the International Humanitarian Law relating to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”.
The IHL, also referred to as laws of armed conflict, prohibits direct attacks against civilians or civilian objects, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, indiscriminate weapons, and using civilians as human shields.
The news release also appealed for the following: for the warring states and other stakeholders to strengthen the collection of data on civilian casualties as well as establish mechanisms to mitigate and investigate harm to civilians, ensure accountability and draw lessons for future operations; to identify and share good practices for mitigating the risk of civilian harm in urban armed conflict, including restrictions and limitations on the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.
It also called on all parties to armed conflicts “to employ strategies and tactics that take combat outside populated areas to try to reduce urban fighting altogether” as well as adopt policies and practices that would enhance the protection of civilians when warfare takes place in populated areas, including policies and practices to avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects. This will go a long way to mitigate the impact of war on cities and to reduce suffering”.
The news release also encouraged the drafting of a number of initiatives to strengthen civilian protection in urban armed conflict are under way.
The ICRC also pointed out that parties in the conflict should realize that they cannot fight in populated areas and not expect mounting civilian casualties, as the use of explosive weapons can cause “indiscriminate harm” to residents in densely-populated areas like cities, towns, and refugee camps place.
The news release noted that armed conflict in “kills and gravely wounds countless civilians, leaving many with life-long disabilities and psychological trauma.”
Basic services like water, electricity, sanitation, health care are either damaged or destroyed, further worsening the people’s situation, Red Cross said, adding, that last month in Aden, Yemen, at least 200,000 people were left without clean water because of the intense fighting.
This would also have an effect on the delivery of health care, which “becomes extremely difficult or impossible”.
“Indeed, when cities are bombed and shelled, healthcare is also hard-hit: medical personnel are killed and injured, ambulances can’t reach the wounded, and hospitals are irreparably damaged,” the ICRC said.
Even for survivors, “life becomes unbearable” as most of them are displaced, or forced to flee. In Tripoli alone for this month, about 100,000 were displaced from their homes because of the heavy bombing.
“These displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to risks to their health and lives, especially women and children. In Iraq, 1.5 million internally displaced across the country are unable to go back home. Those who do, struggle to rebuild their lives against all odds; their homes have been destroyed, essential service networks have collapsed, and the threat of explosive remnants of war is everywhere,” the ICRC added.