Women and children on the frontline in north-west Syria
Women and children are disproportionately affected by the violence in north-west Syria, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced since the end of April, many of them multiple times.
Of the 3 million civilians in north-west Syria, an estimated 76 per cent are women and children - 51 per cent children and 25 per cent women.
While the UN has documented over 550 civilian deaths since the violence began, including 450 women and children confirmed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), unconfirmed sources suggest the figure could be significantly more.
Since the collapse of the conditional ceasefire on 5 August, thousands of civilians have been fleeing northwards further within Idleb Governorate, local sources report. More than 600,000 individual displacement movements have been recorded in north-west Syria since the beginning of May. The Camp Coordination/ Camp Management Cluster reported how there are 358 active sites where displaced people are housed in northwest Syria. Many of these people have been displaced up to five times, while others have been displaced as many as 10 times. Entire towns and villages have reportedly emptied as residents fled their communities in search of safety and basic services. The majority of those fleeing have displaced within Idleb Governorate, with a smaller number moving into northern Aleppo Governorate.
Of those displaced, women and children have specific basic needs, including access to clean water, food, shelter, sanitation services, and healthcare. These are the layers of support that provide dignity and respect for each individual to ensure that accessing all services are done in safety. In humanitarian terms, these protection elements are critical to best serve people and to reduce levels of vulnerability.
Immediate concerns for those recently displaced include a lack of latrines, privacy, sufficient hygiene and dignity kits, as well as access to sufficient quantities of safe drinking water. The humanitarian community is working around the clock to provide services for affected communities, while ensuring that existing services for the population who lived in the areas previously continue and are enhanced. To date, for example, some 263,000 displaced people have been reached through 32 WASH cluster members.
In July, humanitarian partners undertook interviews with displaced families in Idleb.
According to their findings, every third family included a pregnant woman, while 51 per cent of all displaced families surveyed, included a breastfeeding woman and young child. Ongoing nutritional support, safeguarding, and parental care for children remain critical. With the war now in its ninth year, resilience and resources for these two groups have been greatly depleted. Households that are female- or child-headed are exposed to higher levels of risk, and exposure to different forms of exploitation, including forced/early marriage or child labour. In an assessment carried out by REACH in July, child labour was reported by key informants in 51 per cent of assessed communities.
While the humanitarian community is working hard to respond, more work is urgently needed, along with further understanding of the specific needs of women and children. Rather than having to travel distances to access water, food, healthcare, nutrition, for example, humanitarian teams are adapting and moving services, for example, through the provision of mobile clinics.
Meanwhile, access to education remains a key concern for many displaced families. At least 58 schools have been damaged or otherwise impacted by airstrikes and shelling since the end of April in the area, while approximately 100 schools have been used as IDP shelters.
Approximately 250,000 school-aged children are affected by ongoing hostilities in Idleb, mainly due to the suspension of education activities. An estimated 150,000 school-aged children are in need of immediate education services, including access to non-formal education services such as remedial education, catch-up classes, self learning programmes, recreational activities, and provision of learning services. Access to education for their children was the top ranked priority need for resident communities. Returning to school in the new school term will prove a critical challenge in helping children to adapt to their new reality.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.