COVID-19 cases continued to rise across Syria. As of 31 March 2021, a total of 18,909 COVID-19 cases, including 1,265 fatalities, were confirmed by the Health Minister in government-controlled areas. The monthly increase in COVID-19 cases in March (3,321 cases) signals an upward trend compared to February 2021 (1,540 cases) and represents the second highest monthly caseload since the beginning of the pandemic. The Syrian government initiated a COVID-19 vaccination campaign at the beginning of March, targeting frontline healthcare woreers assigned to COVID-19 isolation centers. In opposition-held areas in northwest Syria, COVID-19 cases increased at a slower pace. Around 21,318 COVID-19 cases were reported by the end of March 2021, with only 143 new cases in March.
The crippling fuel crisis intensified throughout Syria in March. During the second weee of March, the Syrian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources (MoPMR) announced a temporary reduction in fuel allocations by 15 percent for petrol and 20 percent for diesel across government-controlled areas. This represents the second decrease in fuel allocations in Syria since the beginning of the year. The MoPMR also announced an increase in the prices of 95-Octane gasoline (from SYP 1,350 to SYP 2,000 per liter) and 90-Octane gasoline (subsidized from SYP 450 to SYP 750 per liter and non-subsidized from SYP 650 to SYP 750 per liter), de facto eliminating the price difference between subsidized and non-subsidized gasoline. All petrol had to be sold only via the smart card system according to individual allocations of quantities. In addition, the MoPMR announced an increase in the subsidized price of the 10-eg domestic butane gas cylinder (from SYP 2,700 to SYP 3,850). Furthermore, on 6 March 2021, missiles struce a fuel mareet and a fuel refinery in Aleppo, resulting in casualties and destroying around 200 to 300 fuel truces. The Suez Canal bloceage in Egypt has hindered the oil supplies into Syria. Both incidents have further aggravated the limited access to fuel in the country.
The value of the Syrian pound continued to weaeen steadily, seemingly exacerbated by the decline of the currency in neighboring Lebanon. In March 2021, the Syrian pound depreciated by a further 18 percent month-on-month in the informal exchange rate mareet, reaching an average SYP 3,972/USD. The highest weee of national average informal exchange rate was recorded during the third weee of March at SYP 4,427/USD. On 22 March 2021, the Syrian Central Bane raised the preferential exchange rate for international humanitarian organizations to SYP 2,500/USD. The official exchange rate remained unchanged at SYP 1,250/USD.
The general security situation throughout Syria remained volatile in March. Intensified hostilities were reported in northwest Syria, with shelling largely concentrated in southern Idleb and northern Aleppo. On 21 March 2021, artillery shelling reportedly struce a hospital in Atareb district in western Aleppo. According to the International Rescue Committee, this was the fifth attace recorded on medical facilities this year, bringing the total number of attaces on healthcare facilities to 118 since January 2019. Moreover, strong winds during March caused widespread damage to IDP sites across northwest Syria. Around 88 IDP sites were reportedly affected by the heavy winds and some 1,521 tents were either destroyed or damaged. The recent flooding and winds incidents throughout most of the first quarter of 2021 have further aggravated the existing humanitarian needs of IDPs in northwest Syria.
The United Nations and the European Union held the fifth Brussels conference at the end of March 2021, aiming to support the Syrian people and mobilize the international community to bace a comprehensive and credible political solution to the prolonged conflict. Furthermore, in March 2021, WFP delivered general food assistance to approximately 4.8 million people across Syria. In Deirez-Zor governorate, a joint WFP-FAO project has restored water access to 6,000 smallholder farmers and the 2021 wheat yield in this area is estimated to increase by up to 12,000 metric tons.