Reported hostilities continued in northwest Syria, including two explosions in Afrin and Al Bab which killed three and wounded 19, including five children. Intense shelling was also reported in across Ariha and Idleb districts, killing two NGO workers. In northeast Syria, tensions increased along frontlines resulting in clashes at end of the month and displacing some 130 families toward northern Ar-Raqqa.
Death and injuries from unexploded ordinance (UXOs) remain a major concern. In November, UNICEF verified incidents of at least seven boys (aged 3-17) injured and three boys (4-16) killed.
Major humanitarian needs persisted across all sectors, exacerbated by the socio-economic downturn and COVID-19. The pandemic especially affected those living in densely populated areas, camps and informal settlements. As cases continued to rise, November saw the first total closure of a school in Syria in the new academic year.
Overall the Whole of Syria appeal faces a 35 per cent funding gap. Additional funding, especially flexible in nature, is urgently needed to ensure that children in Syria continue to receive the life-saving humanitarian assistance.
Funding Overview and Partnerships
In 2020, UNICEF is appealing for US$ 294.8 million to continue its response across Syria. UNICEF would like to express its gratitude to the Governments of Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF), United Kingdom, United States of America, and UNICEF national committees for the generous contributions provided.
Currently, UNICEF has an overall funding gap of 35 per cent; additional funds are urgently needed to support the ongoing response for over three million people, especially in child health, nutrition, child protection and social protection among others. Without more funding, an estimated two million children and women will not be reached with nutrition interventions, one million will not receive primary health care and about 300,000 will be deprived of psychosocial support and case management.
Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs
Displaced populations and host communities in NW Syria, particularly children and women, bear the brunt of the conflict, facing challenges to secure their daily basic needs. Communities in this region were affected by hostilities as parties to the conflict continue confrontations especially south of the M4 highway and around the M5 highway. On 4 November 2020, intense shelling was reported across Ariha and Idleb districts, resulting in numerous civilians being injured, and the killing of two Syrian NGO workers. On 24 November, two major explosions occurred in Afrin and Al Bab cities, reportedly wounding 19 people, including four children, and killing four people, including an infant girl.
Moreover, as winter is fast approaching, displaced populations living in last resort sites in NW Syria are at an increased risk from the harsh winter weather conditions. Syria continued to witness an increase in the COVID-19 cases across the entire country. On 10 November 2020, the Early Warning Alert and Response Network (EWARN) announced that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in NW Syria reached 9,685, a 58 per cent increase in confirmed cases during the reporting month. It is envisaged that the poor humanitarian conditions and the coming winter will make the populations living in crowded last resort sites more vulnerable to further spread in the coming weeks and months.
There has been a rise in the number of the COVID-19 cases at schools across Syria during the reporting period. All humanitarian activities have been excluded from the full curfew while trainings, awareness sessions, workshops and all group activities have been suspended. By the end of November, the Ministry of Education (MOE) had reported 1,056 positive cases compared to 399 positive cases at the beginning of the month. Of the positive cases, 500 cases were among students and 556 cases among teaching and administrative staff. As the cases in the country continue to rise, November witnessed the first total closure of a school in Syria since the resumption of schools in September. To support MOE reinforce adherence to the health protocol at schools and to strengthen their monitoring system, UNICEF with MOE has agreed to establish a thematic group on safe schools in collaboration with WHO. UNICEF continued stepping up actions across the country for Risk Communication and Community Engagement, focusing on preventive measures and health-seeking behaviour through increased message dissemination, community mobilization, and inter-agency coordination to harmonize messages and maximize coverage.
NE Syria is also witnessing increased COVID-19 cases, and a full lockdown came into effect on 26 November covering Qamishli, Al-Hassakeh, At-Tabqah and Ar-Raqqah districts, for ten days. As of the end of November, there were 6,945 COVID-19 cases and 189 related deaths in the region.
In October, the local authority made an announcement to release all Syrian internally displaced people held in Al-Hol camp without requiring tribal sponsorship. While this move was intended to decongest the camp, most of those who expressed interest to leave, would be returning to locations in Deir-er-Zor, where services are limited, and partner presence is limited due to low access. Equitable access to basic services is critically needed, in particular to these very vulnerable children.
During this reporting period, Alouk Water Station, which is the main significant contributor to meeting the daily water demands for Al-Hassakeh city and surrounding areas, has not been operating at its maximum production capacity. The functioning submersible pumps range between 13 to 15 (out of a total of 30 submersible pumps installed in 30 boreholes), and between 3 to 4 (out of the 8 primary horizontal pumps) are functioning. From 27-30 November, the station was only operational for 2-3 hours a day, reportedly due to illegal connections on the Derbasieh power line.
Moreover, tensions along the frontlines between armed forces in NE Syria, particularly near Ein Issa Town and the M4 highway have increased in November, resulting in intensive clashes during the last few days of the reporting month. From this offensive, some 130 families were displaced towards the northern countryside of Ar-Raqqa. While the situation seemed to scale down, tension remains very high in the region with reports of reinforcements entering. Should the escalation resume, additional displacement will be expected in upcoming period. Continued challenges of water delivery from Alouk water pumping station may potentially be exacerbated by any military actions in this location. The M4 which serves as a highway for linking the NE Syria with Aleppo is threatened by this situation thereby possibly impacting logistical, trade and humanitarian routes through northeastern Syria.
Humanitarian needs continued in the south with insecurity also resulting in increased tension in the areas. After multiple failed attempts to deliver humanitarian aid to the population in Rukban, the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) were able to conduct an assessment at Al-Waha to identify the needs of the people at the transit site between Rukban Camp and Homs shelters. The assessment also aimed at reviewing the capacity of the transit center to accommodate an estimated 3,000 people.
As part of an interagency team, UNICEF in November conducted a needs assessment to four communities in two newly retaken subdistricts of Aleppo governorate and is currently developing a response plan for all its sectors as part of the Area Humanitarian Country Team, focusing on priority and immediate short term interventions based on needs identified likely to be through deployment of mobile medical teams, conducting mine risk education, distribution of family hygiene kits and initiation of non-formal education and catch up programs. While these communities are very close to the front lines, families have been reported to have started returning from February onwards, when the Government of Syria regained control. Lack of services and severe damage of infrastructure were well observed, which make humanitarian interventions a key requirement if returns are to occur at scale.