Syria

Recent Developments in Northwest Syria - Situation Report No. 23 - As of 21 December 2020

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HIGHLIGHTS

  • 19,447 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in northwest Syria, while COVID-19 associated deaths tripled since last month.

  • Two new COVID-19 testing laboratories, one additional hospital, four new COVID-19 community-based treatment centres (CCTC) and a quarantine centre were operationalised in northwest Syria during the reporting period.

  • A funding shortfall leading to significant gaps in water and sanitation services has resulted in people in need of these services increasing by over 1.8 million people in the last 3 months, including for water provision through networks and water stations, hygiene kits, solid waste disposal, sanitation services and water trucking services.

  • Nearly 250,000 people were reached by Shelter/NFI partners with winterisation assistance in November. Such support remains vital as winter progresses, including in the form of multi-purpose cash.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

Ongoing hostilities: Hostilities continue to impact communities across northwest Syria, especially in areas near the M4 and M5 highways in Idleb governorate. With some 400,000 people living along the M4 and M5 highways, any escalation would have devastating humanitarian consequences. The security situation is further undermined by the prevalence of explosive hazards and in-fighting between non-state armed groups (NSAGs), which take a toll on civilian life. Targeted attacks against non-combatants have also been reported, including of a journalist reportedly shot dead in Al Bab in northern Aleppo governorate on 12 December. The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) reports at least six incidents of improvised explosive devices (IED) in northwest Syria since the last situation report on 18 November. These incidents resulted in the deaths of at least eight civilians, including two girls, and the injury of 55 civilians, including seven women and 16 children. Many of these casualties were from just two IED explosions in northern Aleppo governorate, in Al Bab and in Afrin on 24 November, in which tens of civilians were harmed. In another IED incident, in Jandairis in northern Aleppo on 4 December, a humanitarian worker was also injured – the seventh humanitarian to be injured in northwest Syria in the last three months, a period that also saw the deaths of six other aid workers.

COVID-19: COVID-19 cases continue to rise steadily in northwest Syria, with 19,447 confirmed cases as of 20 December – 10,748 cases in the Idleb area and 8,699 in northern Aleppo governorate. The percentage of current cases among medical healthcare workers decreased to nearly 9 percent, encompassing nurses, doctors and midwives, while a further 4 percent are auxiliary workers in the health sector. Since the last report, case numbers in the northwest increased by over 47 percent. This rise is also linked to higher testing capacities since last month, enabled by two new laboratories, in Jandairis in northern Aleppo and Dana in Idleb governorate. 68,436 tests have been conducted to date. Of the new tests conducted in camp settings, 28 percent have returned positive results. Across northwest Syria, 286 COVID-19 associated deaths have been recorded and 10,477 people have reportedly recovered. Since the last situation report, one more hospital was operationalised for the treatment of COVID-19, bringing the total number of operationalised hospitals in northwest Syria to nine (with 212 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 670 regular beds), in addition to 1,348 beds in the 30 active COVID-19 community-based treatment centres (CCTCs) – four of which were added in the last month. The first NGO-run quarantine centre opened in Shekh Bahr in the Maaret Tamsrin sub-district of Idleb governorate on 1 December. This quarantine centre aims to isolate those who have been exposed to confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, contrasting with CCTCs where treatment of COVID-19 patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms occur. The quarantine centre will enable physical isolation for people who otherwise live in crowded conditions. This is especially vital due to the difficulties faced by those trying to isolate while living in IDP camps, as some 10.3% of known COVID-19 cases at time of reporting were in camps.

Population movements: Some 2.7 million people remain displaced in northwest Syria. According to the CCCM Cluster, there were 29,785 displacements in November, with departures principally occurring from Ariha, Ehsem and Idleb. The main locations where displaced people arrived to include Dana, A’zaz and Salqin sub-districts. Some people may have been exposed to multiple displacements, and reasons for moving vary. Alongside this, a UN partner reports that as of 30 November, some 242,400 people were recorded to have returned to their homes or to previous places of displacement this year, including some 4,800 IDP returnees in November. These recent returns have mostly been to areas around the M4 highway and west of the M5 highway – areas which remain in proximity to the frontlines.

Winterisation: Humanitarian needs are exacerbated in winter, with communities at risk of harsh weather conditions and potential flooding. There is dire need for winterisation support, including for fuel and heating, winter clothes, blankets, food, livelihoods, and winter water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs. Without adequate winterisation, people in need may resort to measures such as reliance on burning unsafe materials for heat, which risks outbreaks of fires or harming people through the emission of toxic fumes. Humanitarian partners are also working to rehabilitate roads and drainage systems in and around camps to mitigate against flood risks and to ensure that these areas remain accessible. Similarly, rehabilitation of the road between Ghazawiyet and Afrin was completed at the end of November – a vital stretch of road for ensuring that UN humanitarian transshipments from Turkey can continue to reach people in need in northern Aleppo via Bab Al-Hawa. Flooding is already disrupting lives in the northwest, with the CCCM Cluster recording flood incidents affecting at least 17 IDP sites in December, impacting at least 29 households, destroying at least five tents and damaging at least 63 others.

Fuel prices: Fuel prices returned to similar levels as at the end of September 2020, following three price increases and two price decreases since the last situation report on 18 November, in line with fluctuations of the Turkish Lira (TRY) against the US Dollar. Prices still remain notably higher than when they first began to be set in TRY six months ago. Compared to 14 June and as of 20 December, per litre prices were around 28 percent higher for “imported first type benzine”, 31 percent for “imported first type diesel”, 13 percent for locally refined diesel and 40 percent for a gas cylinder. The addition of two new fuel companies in northwest Syria during the reporting period has done little to impact the rising fuel prices in the region, with the high prices of fuel continuing to impact the local economy and costs of everyday goods and services.

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