The scale, severity and complexity of humanitarian needs worsened in 2020 due to the economic downturn, rising cost of commodities, and devaluation of local currency, all compounded by the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and ongoing hostilities. This led to devastating consequences for already-vulnerable populations across the country, and particularly for displaced populations and returnees in the northwest and northeast of Syria. The current socioeconomic situation is resulting in some of the most challenging humanitarian conditions experienced in the past ten years of crisis.
In the northwest, ongoing hostilities in populated areas led to higher civilian casualties. Of the 4 million people living in the northwest, 2.8 million need urgent humanitarian assistance. Since December 2019, more than 940,000 people—194,000 of whom are women and 566,000 are children—have been displaced, in addition to the 2.7 million who were already displaced.
In the northeast, approximately 64,000 people remain in Al-Hol camp, 94 per cent of whom are women and children and 53 per cent of whom are under the age of 12. In addition, about 2,370 people, including children in Al-Roj camp, continue to require urgent humanitarian assistance.
In the southern region, the overall security situation was fragile and volatile, characterized by insurgency attacks mainly targeting Syrian government figures, installations and its affiliated entities. More than 750 major security incidents resulted in more than 500 fatalities and 730 injuries, and at least 13 children were killed and 19 were injured. The UN remained without access to settlements totalling 12,000 people in Rukban, on the Jordanian border.
In 2020, UNICEF continued to ensure uninterrupted access to protection, health consultations, immunizations and nutrition services. UNICEF made sure that learning continued and schools resumed functioning with safety measures after reopening, and WASH services were also scaled up. UNICEF procured 26 million PPE items implemented COVID-19 preventive measures, awareness messaging, and risk communication activities. UNICEF also began supporting the readiness plan for the COVID-19 vaccine (COVAX Facility) in Syria.
The Whole of Syria appeal faced a 25 per cent funding gap. Additional funding, especially flexible in nature, is urgently needed to ensure that children in Syria continue to receive life-saving humanitarian assistance.
Funding Overview and Partnerships
In 2020, UNICEF appealed 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), the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and UNICEF national committees for the generous contributions provided.
At the end of the year, UNICEF had an overall funding gap of 25 per cent. Additional funds are urgently needed to support the ongoing response, especially in child health, nutrition, child protection, social protection among others, for over three million people. 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
A decade of humanitarian crisis and hostilities has had a profound impact on the situation of children in Syria. This year, over 11 million people, including 4.8 million children, continued to require humanitarian assistance, and 6.1 million people remained internally displaced. Their vulnerability has been further aggravated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The scale, severity and complexity of humanitarian needs have become even more extensive due to the economic downturn, rising cost of commodities, and devaluation of local currency, which were all compounded by the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and ongoing hostilities. This has led to devastating consequences for already-vulnerable populations across the country, particularly for displaced populations and returnees in northwest and northeast Syria. For most of 2020, Syria’s economy experienced an unprecedented downturn with a sharp decline in the value of the Syrian pound (SYP) by 74 per cent compared to 2019. In November 2020, the SYP depreciated by 11 per cent in the informal exchange rate market and reached SYP 2,638/USD. Families across Syria faced heavily eroded employment opportunities, skyrocketing prices and shortages of basic goods and services, and widespread deterioration of household coping mechanisms. The price of an average food basket in November 2020 was SYP 99,243, an increase of 251 per cent over the past 12 months. For most of the population in the country, the current socio-economic situation represents some of the most challenging humanitarian conditions experienced in the past ten years of crisis.
COVID-19 has brought severe disruption to basic services. Moreover, the government closed all schools as a preventative measure between 14 March and 13 September. Continuing health and nutrition preventative as well as surveillance activities became a major challenge. Simultaneously, the number of mental health consultations tripled from March through May compared to the same period in 2019, posing a great concern. Despite UNICEF and partners’ efforts to keep basic services available, movement restrictions, limited capacity for wide-scale remote services, and the need to maintain physical distancing posed challenges. According to a socio-economic impact assessment, only 4.5 per cent of surveyed households indicated that their children had access to e-learning platforms during the school closures while about 70 per cent used at least one form of distance learning as of April/May 2020. Sadly, due to the above-mentioned reasons, child-labour reportedly increased by about seven per cent, and children with disabilities suffered a dramatic decline in access to rehabilitation programmes, physiotherapy and psychosocial counselling. In September 2020, through the Child Protection Area of Responsibility for northwest Syria – about 82 per cent of interviewed key informants reported that children are engaged in child labour that prevents them from attending school.
Reported COVID-19 cases in Syria continued to rise despite relatively low numbers overall. Limited testing capacity across the country and other characteristics of the epidemiological situation indicates widespread community transmission. Meanwhile, the prevention of COVID-19 in schools has been a priority for UNICEF and the education sector partners. According to the Ministry of Education (MoE) report issued on 17 December, a total of 2,050 cases have been confirmed among students, teachers and administrators since the school opening in September, showing a sharp increase from the beginning of November (399 cases). This highlights the challenges of preventing transmission in schools, primarily due to overcrowded and often poor or damaged infrastructure which makes adequate physical distancing difficult, but also owing to insufficiently qualified teaching personnel and challenges in changing behaviours.
Due to restrictions on the movement of supplies, many children were not able to access or receive learning materials at home. The issue was particularly compounded by the lack of access to electricity and internet in many parts of the country, particularly in rural areas of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and across Idlib.
Grave violations of children's rights continued, with Syria showing some of the highest numbers of violations, globally. The Secretary-General’s Report on Children and Armed Conflict has shown that between January and December 2019, the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism verified grave violations affecting 2,292 children, including 1,454 children killed or maimed, and other issues of concern.
In the northwest, ongoing hostilities encroach on population areas, leading to higher civilian casualties. Since December 2019, more than 940,000 people, of which 194,000 are women and 566,000 are children, have been displaced in northwest Syria, in addition to the 2.7 million people who were already displaced. Of the four million people living in the northwest, 2.8 million require urgent humanitarian assistance. 2020 was a particularly dangerous year for children in the northwest. January to March 2020 saw the highest number of child casualties in a single quarter since the conflict began. In late 2020, violence again intensified after the March ceasefire, increasing the risk for children and humanitarian workers. In one week alone in November 2020, at least five children were reportedly killed in northwest Syria, including a four-year-old who was on her way to school. In the same week, two aid workers - partners of UNICEF - were killed while heading to a UNICEF-supported child-friendly space.
In northern Aleppo, particularly in Afrin, Jarablus and Al Bab, a number of civilians, including children, were killed and injured as a result of an increase in sporadic fighting between and within armed groups and the indiscriminate use of firepower between the various Non-State Armed Group-controlled Groups.
In northeast Syria, a total of 64,619 people remain in Al-Hol camp, 94 per cent of whom are women and children and 53 per cent are children under the age of 12. In addition, about 2,370 people, including children in Al-Roj camp, continue to require urgent humanitarian assistance. The majority of those living at Al-Hol camp, including children, are comprised of 48 per cent Iraqis, 37 per cent Syrians and 15 per cent third-country nationals (TCNs).
In the southern region, the overall security situation remained fragile and volatile, characterized by insurgency attacks mainly targeting Syrian government figures, installations and its affiliated entities. More than 750 major security incidents resulted in more than 500 fatalities and 730 injuries. At least 13 children were killed and 19 were injured. The UN has remained without access to settlements of 12,000 people in Rukban area on the Jordanian border since September 2019. A total of 38 groups with 19,975 people have left Rukban and transited through five shelters in Homs city since March 2019. People spontaneously returning home urgently require critical assistance and the restoration of basic services in heavily-destroyed communities.
2020 witnessed heightened risk for humanitarian workers posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which scaled up the frequency and intensity of attacks against all entities, including the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their allies. Given the increased security risks, resulting from the ISIL attacks, as well as the ongoing military operations against the ISIL, the work of the UN in Syria was heavily impacted. In fact, Ithreya-at-Tabqah and Sokhna—Deir-ez-Zor roads were suspended. Previously, these roads were used by UN contractors to carry out missions and to provide timely supplies to support UN activities in northeast Syria. The safety of UNICEF staff and operations in these areas became a concern, given that Homs—Deir-ez-Zor road remained the only accessible route for UN missions between the two governorates and the heightened security situation in Deir-ez-Zor.
By the end of 2020, Alouk water station stopped pumping water for the fifteenth time in 2020 as a result of power supply disruptions or damages to the station. This affected almost half a million people in Al-Hassakeh, forcing them to resort to potentially unsafe alternative sources of water.
Similarly, there is an ongoing water supply crisis in Al-Bab sub-district of northwest Syria. About 150,000 residents of Al-Bab used to receive water from the Al-Bayda water station, which comes from Al-Furat river. As the government of Syria lost control over Al-Bab since 2017, water supply from Al-Bayda water station was disconnected by the government.
Since then, Al-Bab has been dependent on locally developed low yield borewells and generators that use fossil fuels for pumping to run the water stations.