Syria Crisis: Northeast Syria Situation Report No. 29 (1 October 2018 - 31 October 2018) [EN/AR]

Report
from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 31 Oct 2018

Highlights

  • The United Nations (UN) and partners have significant concerns for the civilian population impacted by recent fighting in south-east Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. At least 10,000 civilians reportedly remain trapped in the ISIL-controlled Hajin enclave in southern rural Deir-ez-Zor facing severe protection risks, and many of the estimated 27,000 civilians displaced since June continue to live in dire conditions, with some dangerously close to frontlines.
  • Despite considerable challenges in accessing areas of displacement due to insecurity and geographic isolation, local UN humanitarian partners have continued to provide assistance to IDPs in the Gharanij and Bahra areas during the reporting period. This includes multi-sector assistance provided to 5,000 IDPs.
  • During October there have been reports of disruption to education and life-saving health and nutrition programmes supported by the UN in Ar-Raqqa and Al-Hasakeh governorates due to interference by local authorities. The UN and partners continue to uphold the importance of independent humanitarian action driven exclusively by needs and calls for renewed access for people to critical education, health and nutrition services.
  • As winter approaches there is an urgent need for increased winterization assistance to support the IDP population in northeast Syria. As of the end of October the shelter/NFI winterization plan for Syria required an additional US$19.7 million (30 per cent of overall appeal). This support is particularly critical for IDPs living in sites, where many people are living in tents, some of them worn out. Over the reporting period, adverse weather conditions reportedly led to the destruction of a number of tents across the region.
  • Against the backdrop of an unprecedented drought in northeast Syria, there are significant concerns around the food security and livelihoods situation particularly of people who live in Al-Hasakeh Governorate and rely on agriculture as a primary source of income.
  • Reports of new returns to Ar-Raqqa city over the past month have been limited, reinforcing the downward trend witnessed over recent months as conditions remain inconducive for returns due to high levels of destruction and explosive hazard contamination as well as limited availability of basic services in the city as winter approaches.

Situation Overview

During the reporting period the third phase of the Al-Jazeera Storm military operation continued in south-east Deirez-Zor Governorate. The operation was launched on 11 September by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the International Coalition Forces (ICF), with the aim to clear ISIL elements from their last remaining strongholds in the Hajin enclave along the east bank of the Euphrates River. On the 31 October the SDF announced the suspension of its military operations against ISIL in eastern rural Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. Overall, an estimated 15,000 people, including 5,000 ISIL fighters and their families remain in the Hajin enclave.

There has been a marked escalation in hostilities during the reporting period, with numerous reports of air and ground-based strikes, allegedly resulting in scores of civilian deaths. There was reportedly a spike in hostilities between the 18-21 October, with reports of multiple strikes which resulted in the damage or destruction of civilian infrastructure as well as civilian casualties, including children. In addition, reports of restrictions on civilian movements continue to be reported, preventing civilians from both exiting ISIL-controlled areas and limiting movements in areas that have come under SDF control.

Despite a continuation of high intensity hostilities during October, the number of newly displaced people from the ISIL-controlled Hajin enclave to surrounding SDF controlled areas has been minimal and has largely been localized.
However, reports from the field indicate that there are serious barriers to civilian movement in communities in Hajin and neighbouring sub-districts of Sur, Basira, Thiban, and Susat – women and girls reportedly being the most affected by the obstacles to basic services like health or water and sanitation. Since the beginning of the latest phase of military operations in September, some 7,000 civilians have reportedly been displaced from the Hajin-enclave to SDF controlled areas. The situation of these IDPs is of particular concern, with many sheltering in makeshift camps where conditions are reportedly dire due to limited access to humanitarian assistance and services. Indeed, insecurity remains both a principal barrier to humanitarian actors scaling up the response in these areas and a source of significant protection risks to the civilian population. According to multiple sources, on the 11 October ISIL fighters reportedly attacked the Hajin makeshift camp, reportedly resulting in the death and injury of civilians. During this attack ISIL allegedly destroyed tents and abducted an unconfirmed number of IDPs- reportedly more than 100 people. Some of those people who were abducted have since reportedly been killed. These families were reportedly transported to an ISIL-controlled village inside the Hajin enclave. At the time of writing, the Hajin makeshift camp remained empty.

Of the 7,000 IDPs displaced since the 11 September, some 5,000 are reportedly being hosted by local communities in Gharanij town as well as Bahra and surrounding villages. Some 1,300 people are also estimated to be sheltering in the makeshift Baeir Al-Bahra IDP site in the desert, approximately 15 km from Bahra village and 15 km north of Hajin. Overall there are an estimated 15 informal settlements hosting IDPs in the Gharanij and Bahra areas. The UN plans to conduct further joint assessments with partners and monitors to provide a more reliable estimate of the total number of IDPs and settlements in these areas and to identify priority needs.

The number of people residing in IDP sites across northeast Syria remains largely unchanged from the previous month. According to humanitarian sources, some 23,400 IDPs (4,850 families) still reside in the four main IDP sites (Ein Eissa, Mabrouka, Al Hole, Areesha), with a prevalence of children under 12 of 47 per cent and children under 18 of 61 per cent. In certain sites, such as Mabrouka, the majority of IDPs reportedly originate from Deir-ez-Zor.
During October the challenging situation for IDPs across sites in northeast Syria has been exacerbated by the inclement and increasingly wintery weather conditions. On the 12 October a severe sandstorm reportedly damaged IDP sites in both Deir-ez-Zor and Al-Hasakeh governorates. Material damage was reported to the structures in AlHole Camp in Al-Hasakeh, while damage to tents was reported across multiple IDP sites in southeast Deir-ez-Zor which hosts many of those people recently displaced from the Hajin enclave. The sandstorm also reportedly resulted in increased incidences of respiratory problems, particularly affecting children, the elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma. On the 25 October torrential rains and strong winds also reportedly inflicted damage on several IDP sites in areas of rural Ar-Raqqa. Some thirty tents were reportedly destroyed in a makeshift camp near to Al-Rasheed and Al-Jayef villages, west of Ar-Raqqa city. In addition, Abu Khashab camp was reportedly flooded, with UNHCR providing replacement tents, relocating shelters towards areas at reduced flood risk and providing full winterization assistance,

As winter approaches there is an urgent need to scale up winter aid distribution (including sleeping bags, thermal blankets, winter clothes, plastic sheeting, winter NFI kits, heaters, stoves and fuel), particularly given the large number of IDPs living in inadequate shelters in IDP sites which are unable to withstand the harsh winter conditions. During the reporting period dozens of IDPs living in Areesha camp in southern rural Al-Hasakeh reportedly protested around the lack of winter items distributed. Given the harsh winter conditions in northern areas of Syria as well as the largenumber of IDPs, northeast Syria is a priority geographic area for winterization assistance. Area based assessments and planning have been conducted, and while most areas of NES will receive winterization support, planning from UN and INGOs to date is largely focused on winter NFIs, with major gaps in emergency and winter shelter support. As of the end of October the Shelter-NFI sector winterization plan for Syria remained underfunded by US$19.7 million (or 30.5 per cent of the overall appeal).

In addition to winterization assistance there is also an urgent need to scale up livelihood support, specifically to those families who rely on agricultural as their primary source of income. Over the past year northeast Syria has witnessed an unprecedented drought which has had significant implications on the wheat harvest in Al-Hasakeh Governorate.
Only 1.2 million tons of wheat was harvested in Al-Hasakeh this year, the lowest yield since 1989 and only 30 per cent of the pre-crisis average yield of 4.1 million tons. With some 45 per cent of Syria’s wheat cultivated in AlHasakeh, the drought could have national implications on standard food basket prices and the food/ nutrition status of vulnerable groups.

While multiple infectious disease outbreaks continue to be reported across northeast Syria, the number of new cases recorded during the reporting period has declined. Over the last month the number of new typhoid cases has reduced from approximately 92 in September to 20 in October. This outbreak is thought to be due to the consumption of unsafe water and follows the ongoing acute bloody diarrhea outbreak in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. Between 1-15 October a total of 392 new cases of acute bloody diarrhea were reported, 74 of which were reported in Ar-Raqqa Governorate, 187 in Al-Hasakeh Governorate and 131 in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. While the outbreak continues, the number of new cases recorded continues to decline.

On 18 April, the Directorate of School Health reported a measles outbreak particularly affecting school-aged children, with a total of 139 new suspected cases of measles reported during between 1 and 15 October, 36 of which were in Ar-Raqqa Governorate, 35 of which were in Al-Hasakeh Governorate and 68 of which were in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate. The overall prevalence of new measles cases also continues to decline.

The number of cases of leishmaniasis also continues to decrease. In January 2018 approximately 1,400 new cases of leishmaniasis were on average reported each week. By September this had decreased to approximately 220 new cases per week. In the first half October some 441 new cases of leishmaniasis were reported 162 of which were in Ar-Raqqa Governorate, 141 of which were in Al Hasakeh Governorate and 138 of which were in Deir-ez-Zor.
Leishmaniasis has largely spread due to a lack of healthcare and health actors operating in affected areas.

During October, increasing reports were received of disruption to education and health services in Ar-Raqqa and AlHasakeh governorates. On the 24 October the Kurdish Self-Administration (KSA) reportedly closed four Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) and immunization services centres supported by UNICEF and WHO. On 25 October a number of health and nutrition clinics treating cases of severe and acute malnutrition in Ar-Raqqa city were also closed. In addition, school attendance and access to education has been affected in Al-Hasakeh following the reported decision by the KSA to halt all buses transporting school children to and from KSA areas to attend GoS schools that are teaching the Syrian Government curriculum. In Al-Hasakeh, more than 380 schools are affected by the restrictions, preventing almost 60,000 students from accessing their schools on a daily basis. Similarly, in Qamishli, the attendance rate has dropped by 45 per cent.

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