September 1, 2015

barrel bomb syriaSF Bay Area PSR board member Dr. Rohini Haar recently returned from the Syria-Turkey border, where she saw first-hand the severe and horrific toll the Syrian Civil War is having upon the Syrian people, their infrastructure and their long-term prospects for prosperity and health. With hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced and even more millions living in unsafe conditions, Dr. Haar spoke of the dramatic need for greater international attention and action.

Dr. Haar specifically witnessed the deadly effects of one of the government’s weapons of choice, the barrel bomb. These bombs, commonly an oil barrel stuffed with metal, nails, even parts of appliances, and then explosives, are being dropped in civilian areas, and have the power to level an entire city block. Often a target might be a hospital, clinic, a school or any other institution of value to civil society. Since May, more than a thousand civilians have been directly killed, while hundreds more have died due to a lack of available health care.

The effects of these bombs, and the war in general, has meant that what was a modern society has dramatically devolved. “It’s devastating for doctors who were, as recently as three years ago, able to treat any number of chronic or preventable health issues, to now have to triage their patients and hope for the best,” says Dr. Haar. It will take years, she noted, to rebuild an effective health care infrastructure.

In addition to bombings, the government has been arresting physicians, prohibiting patients from entering hospitals, shooting at ambulances, and placing snipers on well-traveled routes. Before traveling to Turkey, Dr. Haar was in Greece, and saw one outcome of these attacks – hundreds of Syrian migrants desperately looking for safety.

Dr. Haar visited the region as part of a Syrian American Medical Association’s conference, where she joined other health care workers and data collectors in documenting the effects  of the war upon health workers, facilities, transportation and patients. Conference participants used an online tool developed by PSR ally, Professor Len Rubenstein, a Johns Hopkins professor and director of the Program on Human Rights, Health and Conflict at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. By documenting the attacks, the participants hope to bring attention and accountability. Human rights organizations, with the data, can target interventions and plan for safety while larger international bodies, like the UN, can use the information to develop plans of action against the severe human rights abuses.

For more information about Professor Rubenstein’s work, the Syrian American Medical Association, and the war, please look here and here.