Since the escalation of conflict in December 2019, the humanitarian situation in the opposition-controlled enclave of Idleb has reached an intolerable level. The area, which was already highly vulnerable and dependent on aid, has seen the displacement of more than 950,000 people in just over two months. While some of the newly displaced are moving northwards to the relative safety of Azaz, Afrin, and other sub-districts in northern Aleppo, most are remaining within Idleb governorate, moving towards the border in and around already overcrowded camps and villages, as well as settling in open fields.
Even when displaced, civilian populations are not safe. As stated by the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock: “They arrive in a place thought to be safe, only for the bombs to follow”. With sub-zero temperatures, reports continue of children freezing to death and people huddling in caves and under plastic sheets to keep warm and safe. Local service providers and humanitarian actors working in the area have rapidly mobilised to respond to the escalating crisis. However, they lack the required resources to meet the exponential increase in need, and are facing significant logistic and security challenges that inhibit their operations.
As conflict continues to encroach upon highly populated areas such as Idleb city, the catastrophic humanitarian situation is at risk of deteriorating even further. In these unprecedented times, and with no time to waste, the international community must step up its response to the crisis. Specifically, humanitarian actors must be supported to upscale their operations in both Idleb and northern Aleppo through increased funding and improved access. They must be able to operate safely beyond border areas, to respond to the needs of affected populations while avoiding creating a dangerous pull factor that would further congest the camps, sites and villages close to the Bab Al Hawa border crossing.