In Northwest Syria, winter storms have the potential to generate devastating floods, which have a disproportionate effect on internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps and informal sites.
Recurrent heavy rain and snowstorms between 18 and 31 January 2022 generated widespread flooding throughout northwest Syria, affecting an estimated 250,000 IDPs. More than 287 camps and sites throughout the governorates of Idleb and Aleppo were impacted by the floods, 10,000 tents have been destroyed or damaged, with many roads leading to the camps cut off by heavy rains. Thousands of households were forced to seek shelter in schools, mosques, and open spaces where winter temperatures dipped below freezing point.
Winter flooding within IDP camps and sites throughout Idleb and western Aleppo has been a recurrent problem for several years, the recent devastation suffered by vulnerable populations in these locations is tragically only the most recent example following many similar previous events in the past. In November 2016, camps in Maaret Tamsrin sub-district were impacted by flooding, which inundated tents and accessways, causing destruction of property and movement difficulties.
In December 2018, another severe storm resulted in widespread flooding throughout Idleb and Aleppo, and damage to tents and property was reported in more than 60 camps.
Again, in March 2019, heavy rainfall caused severe flash flooding in the region, damaging road infrastructure and destroying food stocks.
In June 2020, heavy rain in Maaret Tamsrin sub-district caused severe flooding, resulting in the loss of three lives at least, as heavy rains turned IDP camps into ‘lakes’ and reportedly destroyed hundreds of shelters, putting sanitation facilities out of service.
IDPs are among the population groups most vulnerable to the impacts of disasters associated with natural hazards for a number of reasons. The primary reasons are linked to the locations and living conditions of the sites where IDPs live. IDP sites and settlements are frequently located on land that has traditionally been considered uninhabitable due to environmental factors such as steep terrain, rocky or arid ground, or land that is known to be prone to seasonal flooding. The close proximity of IDP camps and informal sites to flood susceptible locations increases the exposure of IDPs to flood hazards. IDPs in camps and informal sites often also live in densely populated environments, in shelters that are not designed to resist natural hazards. Both of these factors exacerbate the risks natural hazards present for IDP populations. In addition to the immediate hazard flash floods present to people and property, poor drainage and persistent standing water in and around shelters can lead to numerous health and sanitation problems in camps and informal sites, extending the adverse effects of flooding beyond the event itself. Considering the current outbreak of COVID-19 and rising numbers of confirmed cases in northwest Syria, degraded sanitation conditions and overcrowding in camps and informal sites are of particular concern this winter.
Since the beginning of winter 2019, the number of IDPs living in Maaret Tamsrin sub-district alone has increased by more than 35% from 617,000 IDPs in November 2019 to 845,000 in August 2020, following an escalation in conflict in early 2020. As of July 2021, the number of IDPs in Maaret Tamsrin is 916,273. Increased migration to areas with already high IDP populations is likely to result in IDPs living in increasingly dense settings in locations considered less suitable for habitation and potentially more exposed to natural hazards like flooding.
To support the humanitarian response in Northwest Maaret Tamsrin, REACH conducted a flood hazard assessment to highlight shelters located within IDP sites that may be most susceptible to flood hazards. The assessment focuses on the catchment of Northwest Maaret Tamsrin sub-district, which includes Kafr Aruq Cluster, Harbanush Cluster, Maaret Elekhwan, Kaftin, and Shekh Bahr camp clusters, which have reportedly experienced flooding on multiple occasions since 2016.