Truck in Dubai is loaded with aid for Syria

© BRC

This is a guest blog by Claire Durham, our logistics manager. She explains how the latest shipment of British Red Cross aid will reach Syria and help displaced people as winter worsens.

Many people are still inside the main cities in Syria, living in bomb damaged houses or moving in with family or friends when it’s too unsafe to remain at home. Seeking refuge from the conflict thousands of people have also fled to neighbouring countries, where many of them are living in tents.

Throughout the region, people affected by the Syria conflict are facing the onset of a harsh winter. Their situation is already difficult, and it is becoming a whole lot worse. Most displaced people have few possessions and little to keep out the biting wintry weather.

The British Red Cross has begun a major push to get more aid into Syria ahead of the worsening winter weather. Aid convoys are heading into Syria carrying emergency bedding, tarpaulins and other aid.

What is needed

Their requirements are simple:

  • bed mattresses that can be slept on at night, thick enough to keep chills from the floor rising up
  • plastic sheeting to act as an extra insulating layer below the mattresses, and to cover doors and windows blown out by the explosions
  • warm fleece blankets designed for cold climates
  • hygiene parcels containing the basic toiletries needed to keep clean and healthy.

With winter drawing in, all of this is needed quickly.

How we source supplies

Normally we try to buy locally in the country we are working in. It’s generally quicker and cheaper, and we can provide the items people are used to. This is much harder in a conflict zone, when many shops are closed, destroyed or may not have supplies. Many people in the UK will have seen the particularly vivid pictures of the old Aleppo markets in flames on the news.

Luckily there are still suppliers of mattresses in Syria. Because these are big and bulky items, it’s a lot quicker and cheaper to get mattresses to the people who need them when we buy them locally.

Most of the other goods the Red Cross has in stock, though not yet in the full amount we need. We plan to provide items to help around 100,000 people, and we already have enough for around 60,000 people in one of the Red Cross warehouses in Dubai. We hold aid items ready in various regions so that we can ship them out quickly – as and when they are needed.

How we transport the aid

We will take the supplies from Dubai by road through the neighbouring countries and into Syria. Each road journey will take just over a week. This is the fastest and most economical way to transport supplies into the country. The airport in Damascus has been at full capacity for the last few months and last week it was closed due to the fighting.

We will bring in the extra aid – the goods that we did not already have prepositioned in Dubai – by sea freight. It is important to plan the shipments to arrive at different ports and borders so as not to overload the infrastructure. Many goods are being shipped in to help the Syrian people so it’s important to coordinate this effort.

How the aid will reach people

The first truck convoy left Dubai last week and we expect it to arrive in the next few days. Planning for the next two convoys – which will leave later this week – is already underway.

In Syria, the supplies will be distributed by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. We are lucky that the Syrian Arab Red Crescent has access to many areas other agencies can’t work in. They are already planning the distribution of these goods to the people who need them most. We will continue to work over the coming weeks to ensure all the aid gets to Syria safely.

We are also providing electric heaters, high-thermal blankets and tarpaulins to 10,000 Syrians in three refugee camps along the Turkish border via partners from the Turkish Red Crescent.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to live in Syria at the moment. But I can imagine that having somewhere warm and dry to sleep can make a bad situation just a little bit more bearable. For those people really exposed to the elements, having these cold weather items could mean the difference between life and death this winter.

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Slideshow photos © BRC