Syria

Syrian Arab Republic: Recent Developments in Northwestern Syria Situation Report No. 24 - As of 26 January 2021

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HIGHLIGHTS

• Heavy rainfall across the Idleb area and northern Aleppo governorate has reportedly caused damage to at least 196 IDP sites, with at least 67,647 people affected by the floods.

• 20,939 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in northwest Syria. Despite a reduction in new cases, the number of deaths associated with COVID-19 increased by some 46 percent to 380. Funding is needed to meet the COVID19 response plan and crucial to ensure that essential health services are available and accessible by all people in northwest Syria, especially as some COVID-19-related programs are running out of funding.

• A funding shortfall leading to significant gaps in water and sanitation services has resulted in people in need of these services increasing to over 2.6 million people in the last 3 months. Further gaps are expected to compound with the existing gaps in the next two months.

• Several protection programmes have been temporarily suspended, with funding shortages likely to worsen the impact of flooding, COVID-19, and economic hardship among the vulnerable population.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

Ongoing hostilities: Artillery shelling and similar bombardments continued to impact communities across the northwest, especially around the M4 and M5 highways in the southern and eastern Idleb area. Civilian casualties continued to be reported, killed and injured by shelling or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Some IED incidents occurred in residential areas or at local markets, with particular risk to civilians. The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) reports that since 18 December, shelling in northwest Syria killed at least seven civilians and injured two others, including one woman. During the same period, at least five IED incidents and two ERW incidents were reported, killing at least three civilians including one child and injuring 22 others, including eight children and three women. Many of these casualties were reportedly from just two vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) explosions in northern Aleppo governorate – in Jandairis on 2 January and in the A’zaz countryside on 17 January.

Flooding and winterisation: Winter conditions are exacerbating the existing humanitarian needs of communities, with flooding across northwest Syria, particularly at IDP sites. Between 14 and 20 January, heavy rainfall across the Idleb area and northern Aleppo governorate reportedly caused damage to at least 196 IDP sites, with many roads leading to camps reportedly cut off or damaged. According to the CCCM Cluster, at least 67,644 people were affected by the floods, with over 3,762 tents reportedly destroyed, and more than 7,728 tents damaged. Many people also had food and household items damaged or destroyed during the floods. Thousands of people temporarily relocated, many requiring shelter, food, and non-food item support immediately and in the long term.

The rain and low temperatures highlight the continued need for fuel and heating, winter clothes, blankets, food, livelihoods, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Without adequate winterisation, people in need resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as reliance on burning unsafe materials for heat, which have led to outbreaks of fires or harmed people through the emission of toxic fumes. The likelihood of accidental fires is increased by challenges in accessing safe fuels, due to fuel prices and availability as well as the general economic deterioration in northwest Syria. In the past month, the CCCM Cluster reported 17 fire incidents, that affected 28 households, destroyed 28 tents, and resulted in one death and seven injuries.

COVID-19: Confirmed COVID-19 cases in northwest Syria are rising at lower rates than before. 82,751 tests have been conducted to date, with 20,939 cases confirmed as of 25 January – 11,489 cases in the Idleb area and 9,450 in northern Aleppo governorate. Some 10.5 percent of all COVID-19 cases are in IDP camps. In the last month, case numbers in the northwest increased by over seven percent, compared to a 47 percent increase in the previous reporting period. However, anecdotal information suggests that COVID-19 remains widespread despite the reduced rate of confirmed cases and that people are wary of seeking testing and treatment due to reasons including stigma and concerns about the loss of livelihoods. Over the same period, and despite the reduction in new cases, the number of deaths associated with COVID-19 increased by some 46 percent, to 380 COVID-19 associated deaths – 50 percent of which were in just two districts: Harim and Idleb. The percentage of current cases among medical healthcare workers decreased to 7.4 percent, encompassing nurses, doctors and midwives, while a further 5.4 percent were auxiliary workers in the health sector.

Since the last situation report, three more hospitals were operationalised to treat COVID-19, bringing the total number of referral hospitals in northwest Syria to 12 (with 232 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 908 regular beds). ICUs have increased occupancy rates compared to regular ward admissions; averaged across October to December 2020, isolation ICUs requiring supportive oxygen therapy saw a 68 percent occupancy rate compared to 33 percent in regular wards. There is renewed focus on securing adequate oxygen supply for hospitals and COVID-19 Community-based Treatment Centres (CCTCs). The referral hospital in Dana was recently upgraded to 30 ICU beds and is currently in the process of installing an oxygen generator. IPC programmes continue to be supported through the provision of field visit technical supervision and on-job coaching and training. Since the last situation report on 21 December, IPC training was provided to 226 staff working at CCTCs.

Concerningly, funding gaps are an urgently growing problem for the health sector. Eight CCTCs have been deactivated since the last situation report, due to a lack of funding, and further imminent gaps risk disrupting services, including for surveillance, laboratories, hospitals and primary health centres in the coming months.

Planning is also underway for COVID-19 vaccinations, with preliminary discussions focused on vaccinating some 20 percent of the northwest Syria population through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX). This equates to some 850,000 people, and will prioritise frontline healthcare workers and humanitarian workers, people aged above 60, and people aged 20-59 with comorbidities.

Population movements: More than 2.7 million people remain displaced in northwest Syria. According to the CCCM Cluster, there were more than 32,000 displacements in northwest Syria in the month of December, with departures principally occurring from Afrin, Idleb and Ariha. The main locations where displaced people had arrived to included the Afrin, Sharan and Raju sub-districts. Some people may have been exposed to multiple displacements, and reasons for moving vary. According to the CCCM Cluster, approximately 3,500 IDP returnees were recorded to have returned to their homes or to previous places of displacement, mainly arriving to the Mhambal, Afrin and Raju sub-districts during the same period. The top three needs reported for newly displaced persons were winterisation (23%), NFIs (20%), and shelter (18%).

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