Syria mVAM Bulletin #49: October 2020

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Situation Overview

• On 8 October 2020, massive wildfires broke out across costal and central areas in Syria, mostly in Lattakia, Tartous and Homs governorates, affecting more than 28,000 households through destruction of assets, loss of power and water supply and limited access to services. As a result, around 80 people were admitted to hospital due to breathing difficulties, and 25,000 people reported to have been displaced. In addition, over 9,000 hectares of agricultural and forested land were affected, bringing to a total of 30,000 hectares of agricultural land across northwest Syria to have been burned during the wildfire incidents from early September till October 15th, 2020. It is believed that the wildfires will have a long-term impact on food production and on the livelihoods of at least 40,000 Syrian families directly affected by the fires.

• The Syrian pound continued to slide in the informal exchange rate market and reached SYP 2,339/USD in October 2020, depreciating by six percent month-on-month. Moreover, the crippling fuel crisis persisted in Syria throughout much of October. The Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection announced an increase in the price of subsidized industrial and commercial diesel fuel from SYP 296 to SYP 650 per liter, and the price of 95 octane has more than doubled from SYP 450 to SYP 1,050 per liter during October 2020. At the same time, the price of a subsidized bread bundle has also increased from SYP 50/bundle to SYP 75/bundle for loose bread sold without a bag and SYP 100/bundle for subsidized bread sold with a nylon bag. This increase in the subsidized price of bread coincided with a decision to reduce the subsidized bread bundle weight from 1.3kg to 1.1kg, highlighting limited national wheat reserves and a worsening economic and food security situation in Syria as consumers’ purchasing power continues to be further eroded.

• The COVID-19 outbreak continued spreading in October. As of 30 October 2020, 5,683 cases of COVID-19 were officially confirmed by the Minister of Health in government-held areas in Syria, including 285 fatalities, marking a 35 percent increase compared to the national rate of COVID-19 cases at the end of September. In addition to the dramatic surge announced in opposition-held areas in northwest Syria, almost 100 new cases were being reported per day, reaching over 5,382 COVID-19 cases by end of October. The most affected areas were reported in Idleb and Al Bab sub-districts, together accounting for some half of all confirmed cases in opposition-held areas in northwest Syria. To note the WHO's representative for Syria announced that many COVID-19 cases were still going unreported across the country and that actual figures were significantly higher, suggesting a grave concern especially as colder winter months approach.

• In northwest Syria sporadic airstrikes continued to be reported, with shelling largely concentrated south of the M4 highway and around the M5 highway in Idleb. On 6 October, a bomb blast from a truck was reported in Al Bab city. This spate of violence is still impacting humanitarian workers in northwest Syria where over 2.8 million people are in urgent need of life-saving assistance. Additionally, the Islamic State is further engaging in fighting and attacks in eastern Homs and Hama, Deir-ez-Zor and southeast Ar-Raqqa.

• In October 2020, WFP continued dispatching food rations to around 4.8 million people across the country, including a mission to the town of Darayya in Rural Damascus to support some 12,500 people with food assistance, marking the first time the United Nations has been able to access this area in 2020. Also, to address the needs borne by the wildfire emergency, WFP has provided ready-to-eat rations to 22,500 people in Lattakia and Tartous, as well as 75,000 date bars.