10 MARCH 2019, EASTERN GHOUTA — Roia’s Emergency Medical System (EMS) is being called into action around the clock in response to the ongoing offensive by forces loyal to the regime.
The offensive, which was launched in February, has been characterised by the heavy bombing of civilians. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have recorded 4,829 wounded and 1,005 dead since the start of the offensive – or 344 wounded and 71 killed per day.
EMS, the emergency dispatch system developed by Roia, is being employed by Eastern Ghouta’s White Helmets and other Medical NGOs to respond to the overload of emergency cases resulting form the indiscriminate bombing.
EMS was launched in 2012 to address the lack of centralised coordination among the medical workers operating in Eastern Ghouta. The system combines trained dispatchers working in a fully equipped command centre with a secure and independent telecommunications infrastructure.
The infrastructure of the communications network primarily consists of 3 Ultra High Frequency Radio towers and wireless base-stations distributed among the dispatchers and the medical organisations. In effect, EMS is Eastern Ghouta’s “911 service”, allowing emergencies to be called in and assisting emergency responders in responding quickly and efficiently.
Each day, medical organisations use EMS dozens of times to carry out their live-saving work. In the light of the bombing of the recent offensive, reduced response time drastically improves the chances of lowering mortality rates.
The infrastructure, which consists of 3 primary Ultra High Frequency Radio towers, has come under sustained attack during the offensive. On the 7 March, one of these towers was directly hit by shelling, rendering it inoperable. Roia engineers, however, were able to redirect the wireless base stations to the 2 remaining towers and keep the system operational.
The offensive on Eastern Ghouta follows 5 years of near total besiegement of the enclave, which is located just on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus. During this time the regime has consistently denied humanitarian aid, food and medical supplies from entering the Eastern Ghouta.
The region has been held by opposition forces since early on in the Syrian conflict and, in addition to the siege, has been subjected to regular and indiscriminate attacks.
The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry has stated that the siege is “characterised by pervasive war crimes, including the use of prohibited weapons, attacks against civilian and protected objects, starvation as a method of warfare leading to severe acute malnutrition, and the routine denial of medical evacuations.”
The exact number of deaths resulting from the siege are hard to ascertain, but estimates vary between 11,000 to 18,000.
The combination of the siege and bombing has critically undermined the region’s infrastructure and economy, plunging Eastern Ghouta into a years-long humanitarian crisis. Despite the obstacles imposed upon them by the regime and the context of war, services provided by NGOs like Roia’s EMS have been critical in addressing the persistent needs crisis.