Syria

Recent Developments in Northwest Syria - Situation Report No. 14 - As of 15 May 2020

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HIGHLIGHTS

• A dire humanitarian situation persists in northwest Syria as short-term emergency needs are compounded by longer-term needs.

• Civilians are affected by a deteriorating security situation, due to increases in improvised explosive device (IED) incidents and conflicts between NSAGs and between NSAGs and civilians.

• The value of the Syrian Pound continues to reach new lows, exacerbating the economic vulnerability of people in northwest Syria.

• No cases of COVID-19 have been identified in northwest Syria. Movement restrictions imposed as precautions are reportedly contributing to an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) disproportionately affecting women and girls.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

People living in northwest Syria continue to endure a severe humanitarian situation as their lives remain impacted by the effects of displacement, military operations, the protracted conflict and collapse of the Syrian Pound, as well as the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak. The ceasefire introduced in early March has provided significant respite from airstrikes and there have been fewer artillery bombardments, although increasing IED incidents and reports of clashes between non-state armed groups (NSAGs) indicate mounting insecurity in Idleb and the Afrin and A’zaz to Jarablus areas.

A significant increase in hostilities was observed on 10 May, after a non-state armed group carried out a military operation in the Al Ghab plain area in northern Hama governorate, and communities in the area experienced the most shelling reported since the start of the ceasefire. At least one woman was killed and two men were injured as a result of these hostilities, according to local sources. This occurred after two consecutive days without reported hostilities (7-8 May).

Increasing tensions between NSAGs and between NSAGs and civilians have been reported, in some cases leading to violent confrontations, as have cases of arbitrary arrests, abduction and detainment, including by NSAG members. On 8 May, local sources reported a high number of suspected abductions in the Idleb area, with four separate incidents resulting in the abducation of four women, two men, and two children. Many of the victims are reportedly displaced persons. Such abductions are usually for ransom.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) continue to pose a threat to civilians. On 10 May, an IED explosion in Al Bab town reportedly resulted in the death of one person and injured 18 others, including four children and one woman, having been left in front of a shop prior to the explosion. At least two other IED incidents were reported in northwest Syria since the last update on 8 May. Local authorities have introduced new regulations and enhanced security measures in attempts to safeguard against these and similar incidents, such as increased checkpoints and new protocols on the registration and movement of vehicles and fuel in locations such as Afrin town, Mare’, Salama and Akhtrein in northern Aleppo governorate.

Some 840,000 of the nearly 1 million people displaced in northwest Syria between December 2019 and early March 2020 reportedly remain in displacement, including some 500,000 children and nearly 180,000 women. Longer-term needs are increasing, including for health, nutrition and education services, even as urgent needs for shelter, food, water, sanitation, hygiene and protection remain. At least 140,000 people have moved back to areas in Idleb and western Aleppo governorates from which they were displaced since December 2019, comprising some 20,000 people who moved back to areas to which they were previously displaced and some 120,000 people who returned to their areas of origin. According to a UN partner, Ariha and Atareb recorded the most arrivals with each receiving some 30,000 people, followed by Ehsem with some 14,000 people and Sarmin and Jisr-Ash-Shugur, each receiving some 10,000 people. Humanitarian needs in areas of arrival are increasing, while delivery of assistance is inhibited by a lack of basic services, displacement of humanitarian partners away from these areas, contamination by explosive remnants of war (ERW), and proximity to the frontlines.

The economic situation in northwest Syria is increasingly desperate as the Syrian Pound (SYP) continues to sharply lose value against the USD. Having breached 1,300 SYP per USD for the first time at the start of May, the exchange rate in some areas of Idleb fell as low as 1,600 SYP per USD as of 12 May – some 26 percent weaker than at the end of April, and in stark contrast to rates of some 900 SYP per USD in December 2019 and some 570 SYP per USD one year ago in May 2019. The heavy reliance on imported goods in northwest Syria means that the devaluation of the SYP has severe consequences for the purchasing power of local communities, including for basic necessities such as food, water and hygiene supplies, the prices of which have continually reached new highs since November 2019. This compounds existing vulnerabilities, reduces self-sufficiency and increases dependency on humanitarian assistance. As the cost of living reaches untenable levels, more people will resort to negative and emergency coping strategies to meet their daily needs, such as the sale of assets, child labour and other forms of exploitation.

No cases of COVID-19 have been identified in northwest Syria, with 596 samples tested as of 13 May, of which 594 returned negative results and two results are pending. A laboratory in Idleb with a capacity of 100 tests per day remains instrumental in testing samples of potential cases of COVID-19. In some cases, samples from northwest Syria are sent to laboratories in Turkey for testing. To date, 304 triage tents have been distributed or installed in northwest Syria and 104 hospitals and primary health centres (PHC) have enacted COVID-19 triage systems. Four hospitals with intensive care units are operational to receive severe cases of COVID-19 and two community-based isolation (CBI) centres are operational to isolate mild to moderate cases. A further 28 CBI centres are in the process of establishment, to provide a targeted capacity of over 1,500 beds across 30 locations in northwest Syria. Since the last update on 8 May, 15 more health facilities with triage systems are in place, and an additional 35 ventilators as well as some 7,000 boxes of gloves, 29,000 protective goggles, 100,000 protective gowns, 200,000 N95 masks and 1.3 million surgical masks are in the pipeline. Nonetheless shortages in personal protective equipment remain severe, and a need for more testing kits, laboratory equipment, and other supplies. There is also a shortage of health workers in northwest Syria.

The Bab Al-Hawa and Bab Al-Salam border crossings between Syria and Turkey remain open to humanitarian and commercial traffic, while several other points of entry in northwest Syria are also partially open. Monitoring, infection prevention and control (IPC) and referral measures reportedly continue to be implemented at cross-border and cross-line points. In northwest Syria, humanitarian partners continue to operate under measures intended to mitigate against the potential spread of COVID-19. These include adapted modalities to deliver assistance while minimising face-to-face contact, virtualisation of meetings and activities, and awareness raising efforts on COVID-19 risks and precautions conducted online.

Increased protection concerns have been noted as a result of COVID-19 mitigation measures. As reported by gender-based violence (GBV) partners, these include incidents of family and domestic violence, emotional abuse and deprivation of resources and services, as well as an emerging, worrying trend of women being forced by their husbands to abort pregnancies due to apprehensions about having children while COVID-19 remains a threat. The impact of this is compounded as GBV survivors’ ability to access support and to deploy individual safety plans is impeded by movement restrictions and imposed home quarantine, as well as the scaling down of services at schools, community centres and women and girls’ safe spaces due to COVID-19. According to reports from partners, the closure of schools and child-friendly spaces contributes to increased exposure to violence at home, negatively impacting the physical and psychological wellbeing of children, while other vulnerable groups such as the elderly and persons with disabilities are facing an increased risk of rights violations due to COVID-19.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.