Syria

Recent Developments in Northwest Syria - Situation Report No. 15 - As of 12 June 2020

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HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Syrian Pound has halved in value since the beginning of May, pushing prices of basic necessities to record highs and further out of reach for people in northwest Syria.

  • Renewed displacement has been reported from some parts of southern Idleb governorate and northern Hama governorate following hostilities in the area.

  • No laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases identified in northwest Syria to date. Efforts remain focused on awareness raising and measures to mitigate an outbreak, with preparation for an effective response in the event of any cases.

  • Major humanitarian needs persist across all sectors. Due to the pressures of COVID-19 mitigation measures and the economic deterioration, there are increasing reports of gender-based protection issues such as short-term marriages, domestic violence, divorces and forced abortions.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

The humanitarian situation in for people northwest Syria remains severe as the decline of the economic situation exacerbates the effects of the ongoing conflict on the four million people living in the area. The impact of the COVID-19 mitigation measures and the rapid devaluation of the Syrian Pound (SYP) are putting additional strain on the population, which has already eroded significantly through nine years of conflict, insecurity, displacements and economic hardship. An estimated 2.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, water, health and education; the impact of these recent developments are entrenching the existing humanitarian needs and creating new needs.

Since early June, the value of the SYP has been declining rapidly with the informal exchange rate reaching a historical record of 3,175 SYP per USD in Idleb on 9 June. As of publication time, the exchange rate is fluctuating around 2,650 SYP per USD. In real terms, the current rate represents a devaluation of the SYP by some 105 percent since the start of May and by some 360 percent in the one year since June 2019. The devaluation has resulted in the prices of basic necessities such as bread, food, water and hygiene supplies reaching record highs, well beyond the ability of the population to cope with price increases. People are experiencing shortages of food and other key supplies in markets.

There are difficulties in conducting key humanitarian activities such as water trucking are being reported across northwest Syria due to the collapse of the currency and related complications in monetary transactions. To mitigate against the volatility of the SYP, local authorities in the Idleb area and northern Aleppo governorate have initiated steps towards substituting the SYP with the Turkish Lira and/or the US Dollar for official and everyday transactions, including payments of wages and stipends. To facilitate this, large quantities of Turkish Lira notes and coins were reportedly delivered to Idleb city on 11 June. This economic impact comes atop the complexity of COVID-19 preventive measures, which have already been taking a toll on the availability of goods in markets since April. The impact of the devaluation exacerbates an already dire humanitarian situation for people where only 17% of children and mothers who need treatment for acute malnutrition were reached, leaving a gap for more than 57,000 individuals. Some 60% of the people who need to access a safe water supply are being reached, leaving a gap of 1.3 million people across northwest Syria. In the Idleb area only, it is estimated that at least 45 percent of the population rely fully on water trucking as the only and main source of water and at least 65 percent rely on water trucking to complement their consumption of water.

There are multiple drivers of people’s humanitarian needs in northwest Syria, including displacement. Of the four million people living in northwest Syria, 2.7 million people are estimated to be internally displaced. Most recently, some 780,000 of the nearly 1 million people displaced in northwest Syria between last December and early March reportedly remain in displacement. Longer-term needs are increasing, including for health, nutrition and education services, even as urgent needs for shelter, food, water, sanitation, hygiene and protection persist. For instance, more than 300,000 people who were displaced during the latest wave of violence were not able to receive emergency food assistance due mainly to funding shortages. Just over half of the 100,000 tents needed to accommodate 500,000 people displaced between December and March were installed as of 2 June. Overall, some 1.4 million displaced people, meaning some 270,000 families, are estimated to be living in IDP sites across northwest Syria. 80 percent of this displaced population, some 1.12 million people, are women and children. For people in northwest Syria, displacement not only means the loss of their homes, but also the loss of their livelihoods due to the predominantly agricultural population’s loss of access to their fields and/or livestock. For the 180,000 people who have returned to their home communities and 20,000 displaced people who returned to their former places of displacement, difficulties persist as basic services and humanitarian activities had been suspended in areas close to the frontlines where they have returned.

The ceasefire announced on 5 March has reduced violence significantly. However, military developments on the ground including shelling and clashes along the frontlines in southern Idleb and airstrikes on 8-9 June are concerning. As a result of these tensions, civilians living in areas close to the frontlines in southern Idleb and northern Hama, including those who had recently returned to these areas after the ceasefire, are once again fleeing from their homes. While the number of people who are moving is not yet clear, local sources estimate that hundreds of families have already fled. Given the precarious economic situation as well as COVID-19 concerns, a displacement movement may be even more devastating than usual for those who have to flee their homes and for the host communities receiving them, who are themselves facing difficulties coping with the economic downturn.

The overall security situation is precarious across the Idleb area and northern Aleppo governorate as a result of increased inter-NSAG tensions, incidents involving members of NSAGs and the civilian population as well as the prevalence of improvised explosive device (IED) incidents over the past three months. These have resulted in many deaths and injuries to civilians as well as material damage. In addition, popular protests triggered by the economic downturn are frequently taking place, adding to the unpredictability of the situation.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic not only exacerbate humanitarian needs across northwest Syria, but also contribute to the complexity of the operational environment for humanitarian activities. Humanitarian actors had to cease or reduce certain activities that could not be adapted to the current environment in an effort to keep people in need and humanitarian staff safe. For instance, protection and education activities had to be suspended to a large degree as the virtualization of these activities was limited due to the difficulties accessing phones and internet for some people. COVID-19 countermeasures have also resulted in the delayed treatment of urgent medical cases in Turkey, as only limited numbers of patients requiring chronic treatment unavailable in Syria, such as chemotherapy, have been able to cross. While no cases of COVID-19 have been identified in northwest Syria to date, relaxation of some preventative measures such as reopening of schools, markets and mosques have been reported recently. The humanitarian community remains committed to the ongoing COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts, alongside ensuring the continuity of regular humanitarian assistance in a safe and appropriate manner. Testing and isolation capabilities as well as facilities to treat more severe cases of COVID-19 are operational and these capacities are being enhanced. However, major gaps in personal protective equipment such as protective gowns, goggles and surgical and N-95 masks persist.

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