IMPACT OF THE CRISIS
Maher Ghafari speaks of his city with tremendous pride and unbearable pain. “I don’t know how to describe my feelings,” said Ghafari, a Syrian humanitarian worker and water engineer. “In the last two days, I feel like I’m going to collapse.”
But he doesn’t collapse. He works around the clock with his team to provide children and their families in Aleppo with water as summer temperatures soar and taps run dry. It’s the faces of the city’s children, men and women that keep him going as they continue through frequent power cuts, intentional damage to water sources, and heavy fighting that crippled the main pumping station and left much of the city without running water for weeks.
Ghafari recalls a little girl who stood in line for hours to fill two small jerry cans only to realize that once full, they were too heavy for her to carry. “She just burst into tears,” said Ghafari.
Then an old man, abandoned, alone and afraid, holding a medical bag with fluid in one hand and a jerry can in the other. “He had no other option but to go and collect water on his own,” said Ghafari.
Meanwhile, in Homs, Fatima, 6, is about to start school. Fatima and her family fled Palmyra when the city fell to ISIL militants. The look of worry and fear in Fatima’s eyes is obvious as she quietly sits in her classroom. Far from home, Fatima misses her friends. Ritaj is a ninth grader in the same school as Fatima. Gazing around the noisy classroom, Ritaj looks shy and lonely. She came from Raqqa last year fleeing the war. It is her first day in school in Homs. “I hope, one day I can go back home to Raqqa, where I like to be”, she said breaking down in tears.
Fatima and Ritaj are amongst the 2.8 million IDP children in Syria. Some of them have been displaced more than five times. Fatima and Ritaj are the lucky ones. Rather than going to school, many girls and boys have no choice but to work to support their families. Other adolescent girls are forced to marry early to reduce the burden on their parents.
“Classrooms in Homs are overcrowded,” says the Principal of the girls’ school. “We have 50 students in one classroom to absorb the displaced children.” Schools in the city and other locations are overstretched. “We need additional books and classrooms.” Seven classrooms are used as collective shelters to host 30 IDP families (135 people). The school also added makeshift tents to accommodate new families displaced from Palmyra and Rural Homs. 5,000 schools in Syria cannot be used because they have been destroyed, damaged, converted to IDP shelters or taken for military use.
Source: UNICEF, www.childrenofsyria, 2015
These stories could belong to any one of Syria’s 7.5 million children. The conflict now spans almost half a decade. The largest protection crisis globally continues to unfold in Syria, as the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to deteriorate. More than half of Syria’s population has been forced to leave their homes - over 10.5 million, one of the largest population displacement since World War II. 6.5 million people are now internally displaced within Syria and over 4 million are registered refugees in neighbouring countries and North Africa. During the course of 2015, 293,606 Syrians sought asylum in Europe.
Since 2011, an average of 50 Syrian families have been displaced every hour of every day. The humanitarian community now estimates that 13.5 million people in Syria need protection and some form of humanitarian assistance, including 6 million children. 8.7 million people are unable to meet their basic food needs, and 70 per cent of the population lacks access to safe drinking water. Health facilities, schools, and other essential services across the country are operating at reduced capacity or closed.
Three in four Syrians live in poverty. A deep economic recession, fluctuating national currency, sanctions, soaring food and fuel prices, and disrupted markets have contributed to Syrians’ extreme vulnerability across the country.
As people exhaust their savings and resources, they are forced to pawn their future to survive. Children are withdrawn from school to be breadwinners, exposing them to exploitation, child labour and recruitment into armed groups and early marriage. Many men are left with no choice but to join armed groups or migrate in search of work. Women become more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Everyday decisions now concern matters of life and death. Civilians remain the primary victims of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. Humanitarian partners estimate that upwards of 250,000 people have been killed in the conflict, including tens of thousands of children. In defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian and human rights law, parties to the conflict continue to impose sieges and blockades preventing civilian movement, away from areas of high risk or permitting the circulation of goods and assistance. They continue to engage in indiscriminate attacks on densely populated areas with barrel bombs and mortar attacks. They target civilians and destroy civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, playgrounds, cultural heritage sites, places of worship, mills, bakeries and markets. Access to basic services such as water and electricity is used as a weapon of war. They continue to attack densely populated areas with shelling, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and may have used chemical weapons against civilians. The unpredictability and danger of daily life spreads terror among civilians and fuels the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The parties to the conflict have consistently breached fundamental international humanitarian law, committing wide-scale acts of murder, torture, rape, kidnapping and other inhumane acts with impunity.
As 2015 draws to a close, protection and humanitarian aid in Syria have reached a record high and, in the absence of a viable peace, the situation is expected to deteriorate and require even more sustained humanitarian support in the coming year.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.