Growing humanitarian concerns in northwest Syria

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Country: Syrian Arab Republic

Humanitarian conditions have worsened for 4 million people in northwest Syria following an escalation of hostilities and further displacement, compounded by winter temperatures, heavy rains and economic instability.

In this Issue

  • P.1 Growing Humanitarian Concerns in North-west
  • P.2 Extensive Psychosocial Support Needs at Al Hol
  • P.3 Bridging the Health Gap in Dar’a
  • P.4 Routine Immunization Re-established in the North-west Syria

Growing Humanitarian Concerns in North-west

Humanitarian conditions have worsened for the 4 million women, children and men in northwest Syria following an escalation of hostilities and further displacement, compounded by winter temperatures, heavy rains and economic instability.

The latest escalation in violence exacerbates an already dire humanitarian situation for people, particularly in Idleb Governorate, where in recent weeks, tens of thousands of people have been newly displaced in the hostilities. These newly displaced people add to the over 400,000 that were displaced as a result of hostilities since the end of April, many of them multiple times.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), over 1,300 deaths were reported from 29 April through 12 December.

More than seven months on, clashes, shelling and air strikes, including the use of barrel bombs, have taken a devastating toll on people and critical civilian infrastructure in the area, damaging schools, hospitals and more, while hindering humanitarian aid operations and driving up food prices. Entire towns and villages have been razed to the ground, while dozens of communities have been emptied. Residents in government-controlled areas have been affected with indiscriminant fire into their areas.

Since 16 December, aerial bombardment has again intensified in southern Idleb, affecting large population centres such as Ma’arrat An-Nu’man and Saraqab, as well as smaller towns and villages in the countryside of Ma’arrat An-Num’man. This escalation in violence resulted in a new wave of displacement from the area, to which OCHA reported on 21 December. On 19 December, ground fighting resumed along the frontlines in southern Idleb Governorate, amplifying this wave of displacement as civilians flee in anticipation of fighting reaching their communities next.

Initial estimates point to upwards of 80,000 people being displaced from southern Idleb since the start of November, with internally displaced persons (IDPs) moving primarily to northern parts of the governorate, increasing pressure on already over-crowded and overstretched IDP camps. Most of the recently displaced are going to urban areas such as Idleb city, Saraqab, Ariha and to IDP camps in northwestern Idleb.

Several humanitarian actors have been forced to suspend operations in southern Idleb, while others are considering this option should the insecurity persist or deteriorate further.

Many of these vulnerable people now on the move reported that they have not eaten nor slept for days due to sustained airstrikes and shelling, and are in urgent need of humanitarian support, including shelter, food, health, non-food and winterization assistance.

With temperatures dropping – some nights falling to zero and below – heavy rainfall has compounded the problem, while increasing protection, health and other risks. Since the beginning of December, heavy rains have resulted in flooding, blocking several roads and affecting dozens of IDP camps and settlements, destroying and damaging tents and directly impacting and increasing the vulnerability of thousands of families, not to mention disrupting humanitarian activities.

Meanwhile, fuel shortages have emerged as a key challenge, with the supply of oil from north-east Syria having become severely limited since early October. The consequences of these shortages are dire for transportation and agriculture, as well as for running the generators needed to power hospitals, bakeries and schools, as well as for cooking and heaters. Imported fuel is the only other option available, and the reduced supply coupled with growing demand for heating has resulted in a substantial increase in fuel prices. In January 2019, the average monthly salary of a daily worker could purchase 59 nights’ worth of heating fuel, while the same worker today would only be able to afford enough for 21 nights. In some IDP camps, residents are pooling their resources to heat one tent to keep all the children warm through the night, while they keep watch in the cold should the tent catch fire. Some have resorted to burning whatever they can find or spare, such as old clothes, blankets, and tires.

The humanitarian situation is further aggravated by the rapid decline of the Syrian Pound (SYP), which has weakened against the US dollar by approximately 80 per cent over the past year, with one dollar buying 495 SYP in December 2018 and buying 900 SYP in December 2019. The erosion of people’s purchasing power across the region has a devastating effect on the civilian population, as it makes essential goods and services unobtainable by increasing their real costs, leading to increased vulnerability, poverty levels, and negative coping mechanisms. The potential humanitarian impact of inflation and the collapse of the SYP also extends to the quality of health, education and other services that humanitarian actors can deliver.