Renewed violence in northern Syria forces another 300,000 away from home- but where can they go?
In the last week of April 2019, southern Idleb and northern Hama governorates in northwest Syria witnessed a sudden and sharp escalation of hostilities. Violence in the form of shelling and airstrikes forced over 300,000 people to flee their homes between May and June. Many people have been fleeing grave danger in their own country for the second or third time since the conflict’s onset nine years ago. Unfortunately, this time, potential destinations for hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs) have become seriously limited.
REACH, which deployed in Syria since 2012, led an inter-cluster rapid needs assessment (RNA) on the displacement crisis that resulted from the renewed violence in April. The inter-cluster RNA informs the humanitarian community of current needs, gaps, and priorities in Dana sub-district and 13 other neighbouring sub-districts in northern Idleb governorate as of July.
Data from the assessment showed the extent to which the significant number of new IDP arrivals has compounded the already precarious humanitarian situation in the region, further exacerbating people’s vulnerabilities. Of particular concern is Dana sub-district, which has absorbed the arrival of over 170,000 displaced Syrians. This trend continues from a previous RNA conducted by REACH in May 2019.
Displacement crisis leaves no sector untouched
With the high number of IDPs and the anticipation of many more to come, further pressure is placed on an extremely vulnerable population in the northwest of Syria. In turn, an already over-stretched humanitarian response is at risk of becoming completely overwhelmed.
Highlighting this risk, key informants (KIs) in 86% of assessed communities reported not enough humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of IDPs, which is likely to deteriorate further given the continuously high levels of movements into north-west Syria.
This vicious cycle of displacement is likely to continue. IDPs reported a ‘loss of income’ as the main reason for leaving assessed communities. But at the same time, a ‘lack of money for movement’ was reported as a top reason why IDPs are unable to move further.
KIs also reported that when humanitarian assistance was delivered, 33% of the time the type of assistance did not correspond to their actual needs, clearly highlighting the need for more targeted, evidence-based response in the region.
The high number of IDP arrivals into already densely-populated areas of northwest Syria has also contributed to the rising cost of the 18 items comprising the Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket (SMEB).
IDP arrivals further strained the already limited availability of livelihood sources, a reoccuring issue across northwest Syria over the past year. Many people have insufficient income to cover basic household needs, leaving them extremely vulnerable. A lack of livelihood opportunities and income are also likely to exacerbate other issues such as protection, and specifically child labour – the most prevalent protection risk for IDPs in assessed communities.
People in the region are also reportedly struggling to access healthcare services as they are not readily available, or they are already strained. For instance, 70% of assessed communities could not offer any health services related to sexually transmitted infections and 60% could not offer any tuberculosis treatment. Overcrowded sub-districts, like Dana, can create environments that are more conducive to the spread of bacteria and viruses.
Overall, shelter was the most commonly reported priority need of IDPs. At the time of the assessment, 24% of IDP households and 9% of resident households were estimated to be living in overcrowded shelters. This is also likely to pose inter-sectoral challenges especially related to sanitation and the spread of disease.
Access to water for newly-arrived IDPs remains an issue in a number of communities, further exasperating pre-existing insufficiency of water as identified by a REACH WASH assessment in April 2019. In 90% of the assessed communities, IDPs and residents have had to spend money usually spent on other essential items, in order to buy water for day-to-day survival.
Concerning education, the lack of capacity of schools to properly accommodate children will likely have long-term consequences for education and the future rehabilitation of Syria.
Little to no room for improvement in the immediate future
On Thursday 1st of August, Syria’s state news agency SANA announced that the Syrian government had agreed to a ceasefire agreement along the announced demilitarised zone in northwest Syria. The announcement came after weeks of heavy aerial bombardments on Idleb and surrounding areas.
However, the ceasefire agreement was short-lived. Clashes broke out again a few days later on Monday 5th of August. Military airstrikes on southern Idleb and northern Hama governorates effectively ended the fragile ceasefire, along with the hopes of safety and security for many residents and IDPs living in the region.
Living in such a volatile and fluid context, people’s vulnerabilities are likely to increase over time as the conflict continues. It is essential that an upscaled and targeted humanitarian response is delivered in order to meet people’s needs.
Without urgently needed funding, the already challenging living conditions of IDPs and residents may worsen to the point of no return. Medecins Sans Frontieres’ Operations Coordinator in Syria was reported stating: “What we’re facing now are hundreds of thousands of displaced people living in appalling conditions. Many of the settlements are very overcrowded, their infrastructure is inadequate and living conditions are unhygienic, posing a severe risk of disease outbreaks. This will lead to a further deterioration of what is already a critical situation.”