Syria

Recent Developments in Northwest Syria - Situation Report No. 25 - As of 26 February 2021

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HIGHLIGHTS

  • A declining trend in new COVID-19 cases has been seen in northwest Syria during the reporting period while preparations for a vaccination campaign are ongoing.

  • The devaluation of the Syrian Pound continues to create severe economic instability, with new historical lows of 3,510 SYP/USD on 24 February.

  • A funding shortfall in water and sanitation services continues with the number of people in need of these services increasing to over 3 million people in the last four months. Further gaps are expected to compound with the existing gaps in the upcoming months.

  • Funding gaps in protection services also jeopardize critical protection activities, such as the provision of dignity kits and gender-based violence programming.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

Ongoing hostilities: Hostilities continued to impact communities across northwest Syria during the reporting period, especially in areas near the M4 and M5 highways in Idleb governorate where some 400,000 people live. Daily shelling, intermittent airstrikes, in-fighting between non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and the prevalence of explosive hazards in residential areas and public spaces continue to be a particular risk to civilians. From 20 January to 23 February, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) verified that at least ten incidents of ground-based strikes in northwest Syria resulted in the death of at least ten civilians (including two women and four children) and the injury of at least 47 others (including seven women and 17 children). Seven incidents of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and two incidents of explosive remnants of war (ERW) in northwest Syria also resulted in civilian casualties, with at least 18 civilians killed (including one woman and five children) and 55 civilians injured (including five women and 17 children). On 16 February, a humanitarian worker was killed, and two others injured in Al Bab city as a result of an IED that had been attached to their vehicle. Many more IEDs, landmines and UXOs were also reported within communities and public spaces and later neutralised.

COVID-19: The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in northwest Syria have declined significantly during the reporting period, with a more than 80 per cent decrease noted in new cases compared to its peak in the month of November. 93,713 tests have been conducted to date, with 21,164 cases confirmed as of 26 February – 11,552 cases in the Idleb area and 9,612 in northern Aleppo governorate. The test positivity rate during the reporting period also decreased to 6.9 percent compared with 23 percent in December. A total of 408 COVID-19 associated deaths have been reported to date with an overall fatality rate of 1.93 percent in northwest Syria. The percentage of current cases among medical healthcare workers are 7.4 percent, encompassing nurses, doctors and midwives, while a further 5.4 percent are auxiliary workers in the health sector. Some 10.5 percent of all COVID-19 cases are in IDP camps.

Since the last situation report, eight COVID-19 Community-based Treatment Centres (CCTC) remain deactivated, which are critical for triage and case detection as they are the first contact points in the community. Further imminent funding gaps risk disrupting vital response services, in particular the referral system for patient transportation, manning points of entry with Infection Prevention Control and screening measures, and essential health services such as hospitals and primary health centres across the northwest in the coming months. 24 active CCTCs (with 1,088 beds) remain in northwest Syria, while 12 hospitals that treat COVID-19 (with 234 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 926 regular beds) remain.

Planning for a COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues, with the initial request to secure vaccines for some 20 percent of the population through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) facility having been accepted in February. This equates to some 855,000 people, and will prioritise around 130,000 health and social workers, 320,000 people over 60, and 400,000 people between the ages of 20 and 59 with underlying health conditions. Talks are ongoing to secure further vaccines and a vaccine roll-out plan is being planned including logistics and cold chain delivery, as well as a social mobilization and engagement strategy.

SYP devaluation: The value of the Syrian Pound (SYP) against the US Dollar continued to weaken steadily in the last few months. The issuance of a new 5,000 SYP banknote led to exchange rates reaching a new historical low in northwest Syria at around 3,510 SYP/USD on 24 February. At the time of reporting, the SYP was over 235 percent weaker than at the same date last year and has devalued some 20 percent against the USD in the last month. The most recent wave of devaluation is a continuation of the economic turbulence that has been affecting the Syrian people across the country, particularly since late 2019.

Flooding and winterisation: In the month of January, heavy rainfall and widespread flooding further increased the needs of communities in northwest Syria. According to the CCCM Cluster, from 14 to 31 January, approximately 140,700 IDPs were affected by the flooding, with one death and three injuries reported, as well as some 25,600 tents destroyed or damaged. Many people also had food and household items damaged or destroyed during the floods. This affected at least 403 IDP sites, and access issues were reported due to the flooding. The flooding increased the need for tent replacements, food, non-food-items, plastic sheets, multi-purpose cash assistance, ground levelling, winterisation and gravelling support, and the provision or repair of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.

Without adequate winterisation and due to the general economic deterioration in northwest Syria, people in need have continued to resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as the reliance on burning unsafe materials for heat. The CCCM Cluster reported that there had been 34 fire incidents in IDP sites from 22 January to 23 February, mainly due to malfunctioning or misused heating or cooking stoves, which destroyed 55 tents and resulted in 18 injuries.

Population movements: More than 2.7 million people remain displaced in northwest Syria. According to the CCCM Cluster, there were more than 22,940 displacements in January, with departures principally occurring from Dana, Ariha, Ehsem, Afrin and A’zaz. The main locations where displaced people had arrived to include Bulbul, Dana and A’zaz sub-districts. Some people may have been exposed to multiple displacements. According to the CCCM Cluster, more than 4,900 IDP returnees returned to their homes or to previous places of displacement during the same period, mainly arriving to the Ehsem, Ariha and Mhambal sub-districts.

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