Years of fighting have left some of the country's vital services extremely fragile, including schools, health facilities, electrical systems, irrigation channels and water services. More than 11.5 million people are in need of assistance, now living in dire conditions.

Even when apartment buildings, houses or shops are left standing, the areas are still often contaminated with explosive remnants, putting families, particularly children, at serious risk. Remnants of war – including those in agricultural fields must now be safely disposed of.

Aleppo. Does the name remind you of indescribable destruction and suffering? It does for me. In late 2016 the shelling in Aleppo had been incessant, with mortars launched on residential districts. The battle ripped the heart out of the city and drained it of its soul.

Restore dignity, restore hope

With the temperature hovering at freezing, ICRC and Syrian Arab Red Crescent teams crossed the frontline into a sea of rubble. We got out of the car to wave the flag of the Red Cross, so everyone knew who we were.

It was there I saw one of the most moving sights I've ever witnessed: thousands of people  – mainly women and children – waiting to be evacuated. Many wore rags and carried old bags. Exhaustion, fear, anxiety and hope were etched into their faces. Destruction loomed.

There were so many children, and hardly any of them had warm clothes. They were silent, no sound, not a smile. Their faces held no expression. This is the image you get when life is consumed by violence. This is the reason Syria must rebuild its buildings and souls.

Madaya, Aleppo, death, destruction – it's a world Syria must not return to.

Marianne Gasser

© Deutsche Welle 2019

Marianne Gasser served as the ICRC's head of delegation in Syria from 2009-13 and 2015-19.

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