With the announcement of a ceasefire on 6 March 2020, airstrikes in northwest Syria reportedly came to a halt while limited instances of shelling have been reported along the frontlines. Despite this, the immense humanitarian needs in the area will persist, given the preceding months of violence and large-scale displacement.
The humanitarian needs in the area are across all sectors, but the most acute emergency needs are shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, food and protection. Other needs with longer term impacts are becoming more apparent, such as malnutrition and stunting, the lack of education, and the loss of access to over 150,000 hectares of arable land.
Humanitarian workers on the ground highlight the impact of the current situation on women and children, due to displacement, crowded living conditions, the lack of privacy, exploitation, and other factors. Four out of five people who have been displaced since 1 December are women, girls or boys.
The humanitarian situation remains alarming across northwest Syria where the impact of the conflict continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of an estimated four million people living in the Idleb area and northern Aleppo governorate. With the announcement of a ceasefire on 6 March 2020, airstrikes in northwest Syria reportedly came to a halt and limited instances of shelling have been reported in concentrated areas along the frontlines. Despite this, the vast humanitarian needs in the area will persist given the prolonged effects of violence and displacement that the area witnessed. While the displacement from areas close to the frontlines in the Idleb area reportedly came to a stop with few additional movements being reported, the humanitarian needs of those who have been displaced since December 2019, as well as the pre-existing needs of the wider community remain acute. Prior to the ceasefire, violence continued to take a heavy toll on the civilian population. For example, a few hours after the dawn on 5 March, a poultry farm hosting some 70 IDPs in Ma’arrat Tamsrin sub-district was reportedly hit by an airstrike, killing two children, five women and nine men, and injuring five children, five women and ten men.
Since 1 December, almost one million people, or one third of the total civilian population of the Idleb area, were forced to flee from their homes to escape from the violence. Some 550,000 people, more than half of the people who have been displaced since December, moved to northwestern areas in Idleb governorate into a small area already hosting hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Over 410,000 of those who escaped from the violence moved to areas in northern Aleppo governorate such as A’zaz, Afrin, Jandairis and Al Bab sub-districts, where existing services are over-stretched. While local sources have reported that some families were returning to areas such as Atareb and Ariha, their humanitarian needs will continue to persist upon return as many services in these areas have been suspended or moved.
This latest wave of displacement compounds an already dire humanitarian situation in northwest Syria where the resilience of communities, families and individuals have eroded as a result of nine years of conflict, multiple displacements, as well as economic hardship. Prior to the latest escalation, 2.8 million people out of a total of 4 million people living in northwest Syria were estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance.
The humanitarian needs in the area are across all sectors, with the most acute emergency needs being shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, food and protection. For instance, the Food Security Cluster is reporting that there is a gap in providing food assistance to 438,000 people, particularly in A’zaz, Al Bab, Jandairis and Akhtrein sub-districts in northern Aleppo governorate and in Darkosh and Salqin sub-district in western Idleb governorate. About 150,000 hectares of arable lands are reportedly no longer accessible for farmers due to the displacement, which will have a negative impact on the availability of locally grown food in the Idleb area. In terms of shelter assistance, the needs of those who have been displaced to urban areas as opposed to camps and informal settlements require different interventions. Some 327,000 people are currently staying in camps and individual tents comprising up to 34 percent of those displaced over the past three months while 165,000 people are in unfinished houses or buildings. Some 366,000 IDPs are currently living with host families or in rented homes while some 93,000 people are staying in collective shelters, most of which were converted from public buildings such as schools and mosques. Moreover, there are important differences between the types of shelter in northern Aleppo governorate and the Idleb area. In northern Aleppo governorate, some 180,000 people are staying in makeshift tent settlements and unfinished buildings, which makes up 44 percent of some 410,000 people who have been displaced to these areas. In the Idleb area, only 22 percent - some 119,000 people - are sheltering in these conditions. On the other hand, 27 percent of the newly displaced people are in IDP camps in the Idleb area while this figure drops to 12 percent in northern Aleppo governorate.
Humanitarian workers on the ground are sounding the alarm on the particular impact of displacement, crowded living conditions and the lack of privacy on women and girls. Four out of five people who have been displaced since 1 December are women, girls and boys, who face serious challenges that compromise their health, security and well-being. Humanitarian actors on the ground are reporting incidents of exploitation and abuse of displaced women and girls by men in positions of power such as property owners, in exchange for cash or material assistance. Reports of women not being able to shower for several weeks due to lack of privacy and refusing to eat or drink in order not to go to the bathroom are extremely worrying. The Protection Cluster reported that some pregnant women are reportedly delaying planned births due to the lack of access to medical facilities, endangering both the baby’s and mother’s health. The violence and displacement have also significantly affected breastfeeding and dietary practices for children and women and increased their exposure to infection. This is being manifested in increasing rates of stunting, a largely irreversible form of malnutrition. Surveillance data collected by Nutrition Cluster partners among displaced children indicates that almost three in every ten children under the age of 5 years are stunted. Stunting is the impaired child growth that results in poor cognition and educational performance but also increases the risk of morbidity and mortality. Moreover, the recent escalation in violence and displacement had a devastating effect on education, particularly in the Idleb area. The Education Cluster estimates that almost 400,000 school-age children from 5 to 17 years old were displaced since 1 December, impacting their access to education. Education activities were suspended for several months in Idleb governorate and the western Aleppo countryside, and hundreds of schools continue to be out of operation. More than 20,000 people continue to shelter in 277 schools in the districts of Afrin, Al Bab and A’zaz in northern Aleppo governorate and Ariha, Harim, Idleb and Jisr-Ash-Shugur in Idleb governorate.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.