Syria Crisis: Northeast Syria Situation Report No. 26 (15 June 2018 - 15 July 2018) [EN/AR]
An estimated 147,000 individuals returned to Ar-Raqqa city since October 2017, although conditions for returns remain unsafe due to high levels of explosive hazard contamination. Sub-standard living conditions in the IDP sites, and restrictions on the freedom of movement of those staying in IDP sites may induce IDPs to return to their areas of origin although conditions for returns are not yet conducive. As of 1 July there were an estimated 119,300 people living in IDP sites across northeast Syria, with the overall population in the sites steadily declining.
Although humanitarian actors are gradually increasing their presence and operations in major areas of return in Ar-Raqqa city, explosive hazard contamination remains a major protection concern, which continues to hamper humanitarian access and operations, assessments and safe returns in both governorates.
An estimated 198,000 people returned to Deir-ez Zor Governorate since November 2017. The situation of civilians who remain trapped in ISIL-held areas of Deir-ez-Zor Governorate remains a particular concern, with reports of high intensity hostilities and reported shortages of basic supplies and services.
Between 10 March and 10 July, some 655 cases of acute bloody diarrhea have been reported in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate due to the consumption of contaminated water, resulting in twelve deaths. The UN and NGO partners are working to scale up their response through WASH and health assistance.
Nine months after the expulsion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Ar-Raqqa city, threat levels from explosive hazard contamination remain high, representing one of the main barriers to scaling-up humanitarian presence and the response inside the city. Despite a gradual reduction in the average number of blast-related cases reported by health facilities from more than 170 per month in December 2017 and January 2018 to 13 in June 2018, the returnee population and humanitarian staff remain exposed to significant hazard-related safety risks. In view of the substantial threat represented by explosive hazard contamination, humanitarian organizations operating in ArRaqqa city have implemented a number of mitigating measures to reduce these risks. These include thorough mapping of areas of operation (e.g. delineating marked routes), mitigation measures at distribution sites (e.g. identify safe distribution locations and procedures with mine action operators), and extensive coordination with local interlocutors and risk education activities (targeting humanitarian personnel and civilians).
Since January 2018, humanitarian actors have further scaled up mine risk education activities, including the provision of risk education and training of trainers in IDP sites in Ar-Raqqa and Al-Hasakeh governorates, humanitarian explosive hazard surveys, and marking and clearance operations started in Ar-Raqqa city in June 2018 and continue in Ar-Raqqa Governorate. This enables area-based clearance in Ar-Raqqa city, including clearance of residential areas, in contrast to the focus on the clearance of key infrastructure conducted until now. Stabilization actors resumed clearance operations of key infrastructure in Ar-Raqqa city since early June 2018, with a coordination mechanism established to ensure that humanitarian considerations are factored into the selection process to identify the priority sites for clearance. Following the first UN inter-agency assessment mission to Raqqa City in April 2018, UNMAS and UNDSS conducted a follow-on visit in June to further assess the security environment - including the explosive hazard threats - in order to inform the Humanitarian Country Team regarding the threats and mitigation measures required for possible UN humanitarian support to the city.
According to the CCCM cluster 322,100 displacements from and within Ar-Raqqa Governorate were recorded during 2017, largely from Ar-Raqqa city. Although people have begun to return to their areas of origin within Ar-Raqqa Governorate due to the return of relative stability, a significant number of people continue to be displaced and face challenging conditions. During the reporting period, humanitarian partners have continued to provide shelter support to people in Ain Issa camp affected by large storm which struck the area on 30 May. A reported 1,314 tents were damaged or flooded, with approximately one-third of all tents in the camp destroyed. School buildings and the communal kitchen were also reportedly affected, while over 1,000 NFIs were lost or destroyed. IDPs were left with no option but to live in kitchens due to lack of sufficient tents to replace those damaged/destroyed. As of the end of June, 250 new tents were provided by UNHCR, with a further 80 new tents provided by an NGO. In addition, 630 tarps, metal poles and ropes have also been provided to reinforce/ replace existing tents.
Overall conditions are still not in place for the safe, dignified and sustainable return of IDPs to most parts of Ar-Raqqa city. Displacement is likely to become more protracted, as indicated by consultations undertaken earlier this year with IDPs in major sites in Al-Hasakeh and Ar-Raqqa governorates. Despite these risks, since October 2017 and as of July 2018 an estimated 147,000 individuals have returned to Ar-Raqqa city, 9,000 of which were recorded over the current reporting period, an increase from 6,000 during the previous reporting period. Most of these returns were from IDP sites as well as the rural areas around the city where a portion of the population had also sought safety during the height of hostilities. Currently, the majority of returns to Ar-Raqqa city have been from Jurneyya and ArRaqqa farms, located on the outskirts of the city, while returns to the city from IDP sites were more limited. Returns have been concentrated in areas with a greater degree of services and infrastructure restoration, particularly the eastern neighborhoods such as Meshleb and Rmela. Movement within some central and northern areas of the city reportedly remains difficult given the presence of rubble, explosive hazard contamination and extensive destruction.
While damage and destruction to private houses remains a challenge across Ar-Raqqa city, central and northern areas are particularly affected with more than half of resident households in these neighborhoods reportedly living in damaged buildings.
Access to basic services within Ar-Raqqa city continues to gradually improve. The number of health facilities in ArRaqqa city has increased over the first half of the year with at least six hospitals operational, including five private hospitals where services are provided for a fee and one primary healthcare facility. This primary healthcare facility opened at the beginning of June and, supported by an NGO, has a capacity to receive 100 patients per day.
According to an assessment conducted in June 2018 covering all neighborhoods across Ar-Raqqa city, the availability of electricity has reportedly increased with residents of most neighborhoods able to secure electricity for more than eight hours a day.
At the same time, while the availability of primary education services has reportedly increased since March 2018, these services are still not sufficient with less than half of children aged between 5-10 reportedly accessing primary education. Access to safe drinking water also continues to be problematic and even in areas with water supply, supply is often intermittent, with concerns over the water quality and related health risks. Hence, most households across the city reportedly purchase water from water trucks. Assessed private water truckers are charging people between SYP 100-200 for a 220-litre barrel of water. Average prices reportedly differ by neighborhood, with prices higher in northern and central areas where the road conditions are poor and rubble can impede access. Rehabilitation of the water network within Ar-Raqqa city continues at a slow pace, and is largely confined to eastern and southern areas of the city. There is a risk that movements to reach water points may further expose people to safety risks due to explosive hazard contamination. The conduct of such interventions should be closely coordinated with mine action operators.
Since 1 May the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched two separate offensives against ISIL pockets in Al Hasakeh Governorate (Dashisha and surrounding areas along the Syria-Iraq border) and in Deir-ez-Zor Governrate (Hajin to Abu Kamal). ISIL had reportedly regained control of Al-Hasrat village in eastern rural Abu Kamal city on 18 April. The SDF reportedly took full control over the Baghouz Tahtani areas in northeastern Abu Kamal sub-district on 14 May, with a full sweep of Al Baghouz town undertaken in June. In mid-May hundreds of civilians were reportedly displaced from Hajin town on the east bank of the Euphrates in southern rural Deir-ez-Zor due to armed clashes between the SDF and ISIL. There have also been reports of violent clashes between GoS forces and ISIL in the AlBoleel desert on the west bank of the Euphrates, with notable GoS advances into south-eastern areas of Deir-ezZor Governorate.
As of 24 June, the SDF announced the completion of the offensive against ISIL in the Dashisha enclave in AlHasakeh, with ISIL reportedly driven out of the Governorate. Reports suggest that the offensive against ISIL in AlHasakeh resulted in civilian deaths, including children. Despite planning for the displacement of up to 10,000 people from Dashisha and surrounding areas to IDP sites in northeast Syria, less than 300 individuals had arrived at the AlHol IDP camp as of the end June, with further arrivals considered unlikely. Forces on the ground had indicated the creation of a “safe corridor” in Sbeh checkpoint for the IDPs to leave the area of hostilities and reach safe areas, including Al-Hol, after security screening processes. However, it was reported that most IDPs who arrived in Al-Hol camp did not use the provided corridor but instead arrived via Abu Khashab. It was also understood that the lower number of arrivals could have been linked to the low density of population in the area and efforts by ISIL to prevent IDP movements. Finally, a certain number of IDPs may have settled in urban locations in south Al-Hasakeh, based on the location of residency indicated in their documentation.
Although the situation has stabilized somewhat in Dashisha, the risk presented by explosive hazard contamination in the area remains significant, which may restrict the ability to provide food and other goods to the area. Initial reports have indeed suggested that food is in critically short supply, with civilians primarily relying on stockpiles in the absence of functioning markets. Some humanitarian supplies have been identified for delivery to the Dashisha area in the coming period, including an initial tranche of 4,000 food baskets and NFIs.
The situation in the eastern Deir-ez-Zor countryside remains of particular concern. ISIL retains controls over parts of the Al-Boleel desert on the west bank of the Euphrates, parts of the eastern countryside of Deir-ez-Zor along the border with Iraq and the Hajin area on the east bank of the Euphrates. The situation of civilians in this area is reportedly dire. According to reports, as of the beginning of July an unconfirmed number of civilians remained trapped in ISIL-held areas of the eastern Deir-ez-Zor countryside. Until recently ISIL had reportedly been allowing civilians to leave areas under its control to SDF-held areas, although those leaving remained at considerable risk from explosive hazard contamination. However, recent reports suggest that ISIL has since imposed restrictions on the freedom of movement of civilians, raising serious concerns as to their safety and security in these areas with a view to a possible escalation of hostilities. Unconfirmed reports were received during the second week of July of tens of civilian deaths due to airstrikes in areas in the ISIL-held pocket between Bagouz and Susah villages hosting IDPs.
Basic commodities in this area are understood to be scarce, particularly food, with ongoing hostilities and access restrictions by parties to the conflict preventing food supplies from entering the area and resulting in significant levels of inflation. Although civilian displacements from ISIL-held areas of Deir-ez-Zor are anticipated, they are likely to remain localized within host communities in rural Deir-ez-Zor and are unlikely to reach the IDP sites in Al-Hasakeh.
People are reportedly either unwilling (in part due to explosive hazard contamination) or unable to leave to SDFcontrolled areas.
Over the course of 2017, some 255,700 displacements were recorded from and within Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, the majority of which were from Deir-ez-Zor city. Despite the risks posed by the reported presence of explosive hazards, some 198,000 people are estimated to have returned to their places of origin in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, including returnees from sites in Al-Hasakeh. Explosive hazard contamination continues to present a daily risk for thousands of children, women and men, with frequent reports of blast casualties. Combined with unsuitable conditions and a lack of services in Deir-ez-Zor, explosive hazard contamination is thought to be significant factor leading some IDPs to go back to sites in Al-Hasakeh after having returned to their areas of previous residence. In the absence of explosive hazard surveys, no detailed information is currently available on the actual scope and scale of contamination in areas of return. Further efforts are needed to increase the level of awareness of local communities,
IDPs and returnees through risk education campaigns, in addition to systematic surveys, and the marking and removal of explosive hazards. Current humanitarian mine action interventions have increased their coverage to Deirez-Zor Governorate and will be further strengthened, access permitting.
According to a June 2018 assessment, access to basic services across Deir-ez-Zor Governorate remains limited, including in Deir-ez-Zor city, where a process of recovery is ongoing but still insufficient to meet present needs. While there are accessible health facilities, specialized health services, including surgery and treatment for chronic diseases, are lacking. In 52 of the 112 locations assessed, primary health services, including first aid and treatment for conditions, such as diarrhea, were identified as key needs. Of particular concern is the poor level of water quality reported across the governorate, with key informants in nearly half of assessed locations reporting that people were falling ill after consuming the water available to them.
Within this context, new cases of acute bloody diarrhea in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate continue to be reported, with 167 cases reported since the previous situation reports, a decrease in the number of new cases recorded in comparison to previous months. As of 10 July, 655 cases of acute bloody diarrhea in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate have been reported since 10 March due to consumption from contaminated water sources, with the majority of cases reported in Kasra,
Zugier Jazera and Alassaoh. Reportedly 12 individuals have died as a result of this outbreak. In addition to supplies already distributed, UNICEF will look to provide a further 680,000 chlorine tablets to people in the Husseiniya district on the east bank of the Euphrates before the end of July, while WHO will coordinate with UNICEF to undertake awareness raising activities for 20,000 households over the same period. However, significant operational constraints continue to hamper the ability of humanitarian partners to reach people in need, particularly in areas east of the Euphrates and along the Syria-Iraq border. These constraints include extensive explosive hazard contamination, the risk of ISIL infiltration making roads unsafe, the remoteness of these areas, and in some cases long processes for project approvals.
On 18 April, the Directorate of School Health reported a measles outbreak particularly affecting school-aged children, with 162 suspected cases of measles reported during May in Ar-Raqqa Governorate in addition to 128 suspected cases from Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. The first round of a measles vaccination campaign across seven governorates, including Deir-ez-Zor and Ar-Raqqa will be conducted through MoH and WHO staff between 15-26 July, targeting children between the age of seven and 71 months. The second round of the campaign will take place between 16 and 27 August, targeting school children between the age of six and twelve years old.
During the reporting period four cases of Tuberculosis (TB) have also been confirmed in the Roj camp, resulting in two deaths. Following this outbreak, WHO has investigated 155 suspected cases of TB (as identified by contacts with confirmed cases), with individuals undergoing laboratory tests, chest x-rays and an examination by a thoracic specialist to confirm that they are not suffering from TB.
Leishmaniasis also continues to affect people across Ar-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor governorates. Between 3 and 10 June, 152 cases of leishmaniasis were reported in Ar-Raqqa Governorate, with a further 3104 cases reported in Deirez-Zor Governorate. Leishmaniasis has largely spread due to a lack of healthcare and health actors operating in affected areas.
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.