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Urban conflicts affect 50m, UN says

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-27 09:57
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Syrians flee their homes in the Ghwayran district of Al-Hasakah Province on Saturday, the third day of fighting between the Islamic State group and Kurdish forces in the area. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

UNITED NATIONS-More than 50 million people are affected by conflict in urban areas from Afghanistan to Libya, Syria, Yemen and beyond, where they face a much higher risk of being killed or injured, said the United Nations chief on Tuesday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said civilians may be mistaken for combatants and attacked in some cases. In others, fighters do not try to minimize harm and use explosive weapons in crowded areas that lead to devastating suffering for ordinary people who face lifelong disabilities and grave psychological trauma.

During a UN Security Council meeting, Guterres said dozens of schools and healthcare facilities were damaged and nearly 800,000 people were left without piped water during last year's fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas militants.

In Afghanistan, an explosion attack outside a high school in the capital Kabul last May killed 90 students, mainly girls, and injured an additional 240 people.

In Syria, as many as 3,500 families have fled their homes in Syria's northeastern province of Al-Hasakah amid the US airstrikes and clashes between the Kurdish-led forces and the Islamic State militants.

Guterres said the risk of harm to civilians "rises when combatants move among them and put military facilities and equipment near civilian infrastructure".

But he said conflict in urban areas goes far beyond its immediate impact on civilians.

Urban warfare also put civilians at risk of sieges and blockades that have led to starvation.

It also forces millions of people from their homes, "contributing to record numbers of refugees and internally displaced people". It also creates millions of tons of debris that affect the environment and people's health, he said.

'Not inevitable'

"The frightening human cost of waging war in cities is not inevitable; it is a choice," he said.

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the council there is "mounting evidence of the unacceptable harm of warfare in urban areas to civilians". He said repeated calls for action have not resulted in major improvements and the urbanization of conflicts "is having massively negative impacts on populations in urban areas".

Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia of Ghana said "the rise of terror and violent extremist groups have revealed the true threat posed to civilian lives".

While attempts have been made to get state-supported combatants and armed groups to abide by the rules of war, he said many conflicts in Africa continue to involve civilian combat "and often results in scapegoating of the civilian populations", including using them as human shields.

Agencies - Xinhua

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