The CEO of Canadian Red Cross said the war in Syria is “taking its toll” on civilians, five years after fighting began there.

Tuesday marks five years since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, where estimates suggest between 250,000 and half a million lives have been lost in the bloodshed.

Millions more have been left in need of urgent support. Canadian Red Cross CEO Conrad Sauve, who recently returned to Canada after a two-week visit to refugee camps in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon, said the situation remains “very dire” for those struggling to survive.

“Half the country has moved – people are with families in other cities, they’re in schools, they’re in makeshift camps, and they need a little bit of everything,” Sauve said on CTV’s Canada AM on Tuesday.

While visiting a refugee camp, Sauve said he met a 75-year-old man who had been living in an tent since the war broke out.

“The man looked at me and he said, ‘Listen, come with me, come visit my tent, I’m 75 years old. It’s four years now that I’m living in a tent, four winters – I can’t take it anymore,’” Sauve recalled.

The elderly man’s home is only two hours away, Sauve said, but it’s in a battle area.

“He can’t go back,” Sauve said. “That’s the only thing he wants, is to go back home.”

Sauve also met a group of 20-year-olds at a refugee camp.

“They were seeing the children play, and they said, “Hopefully you’re going to help these children because it’s too late for us,’” Sauve said.

The Canadian Red Cross is in Syria monthly, providing medical supplies, food aid and relief supplies as well as mobile medical clinics.

But Sauve says the humanitarian aid being provided by aid agencies including the Red Cross is not the ultimate solution.

“It’s a coping mechanism,” Sauve said, later adding, “The solution will be a political solution, but in the meantime, that support is key.”

Sauve said Syrians told him to return home with a message of thanks for Canadians.

“(They say) ‘Tell them that we’re still here, thank you for caring about us,’” Sauve said.

And Sauve said hopes and dreams are still alive in many of the children he meets. Sauve brought home a “box of wishes” he received from Syrian children at a refugee camp. The box contains pictures the children have drawn of what they wish to be when they grow up. One wants to go to university, another aspires to become a doctor.

“Their parents tell us, well, if it’s too late for us, do something for our children,” Sauve said.