UNICEF Whole of Syria Humanitarian Situation Report: March 2021

Situation Report
Originally published



• March marked the tenth year of the Syrian crisis. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, in her remarks to the Security Council, highlighted the dire situation of children in Syria, and called for continued access to North West Syria to provide lifesaving assistance, the cessation of attacks on children and vital civilian infrastructure, and for the safe, voluntary and dignified release, repatriation and reintegration of children in North East Syria.

• The number of reported COVID-19 cases, including among humanitarian workers, continued to rise considerably, though limited testing in all parts of the country makes the extent of the outbreak impossible to assess with certainty.

• Devaluation of the local currency against the US Dollar, and volatility in the informal exchange rate continued. Humanitarian partners project a likely further deterioration of the food security situation, with possible longer-term consequences, including an increase of acute and chronic malnutrition.

• The international community pledged US $4.4 billion to support for the Syria crisis response in 2021 at the March Brussels V Conference, $1.1 billion below what was pledged in 2020.

Situation in Numbers

4,800,000 children in need of humanitarian assistance

11,100,000 people in need

6,183,919 Internally displaced people (IDPs)

490,000 Children in need in hard-to reach areas

Funding Overview and Partnerships

In 2021, UNICEF requires US$330.8 million to provide lifesaving assistance to 9.1 million people (including 5.5 million children) across Syria according to the Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC). Of the total funding requirement, US $83,039,794 are available, with a $247,786,781 (75%) gap. The HAC is being reviewed as part of the Humanitarian Response Planning for 2021.

All programmes are considerably underfunded, while demand generation for COVID-19 vaccines, as well as risk communication, which need urgent attention, has not received much funding to date. Funding for the Nutrition programme remains despite a potential further deterioration of the food security situation, including an increase of acute and chronic malnutrition. Similarly, limited funding has been made available for a range of Child Protection interventions.

Social Protection and Cash Assistance also require urgent funding, in a context where the socio-economic situation continues to deteriorate and where families, particularly families of children with severe disabilities, require immediate assistance to support their livelihoods and help them cope with the catastrophic economic situation.
As of January 2021, around 13.4 million people are estimated to require some form of humanitarian and protection assistance, including 6.08 million children.1 This is a 25% increase in the estimated number of children as compared to 2020 (4.8 million). While there is an increase in humanitarian needs in Syria, overall funding pledges by the international community during the Brussels V Conference has seen a decrease, at $4.4 billion for 2021, as compared to pledges totalling $5.5 billion made during Brussels IV in 2020. UNICEF and humanitarian partners in Syria require sustained support to continue to provide critical life-saving services, especially amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the governments of Belgium, Canada, ECHO, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait,
Luxembourg, Norway, Russia, Spain Sweden, Switzerland, United States , as well as Syria Humanitarian Fund and UNICEF national committees have generously contributed to ongoing UNICEF humanitarian response across Syria.
UNICEF expresses its sincere gratitude to all public and private partners for the contributions received.

Situation Overview & Humanitarian Needs

The month of March marked the tenth year of the Syrian crisis. On 29 March, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore made remarks at the Security Council briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria, highlighting the dire and deteriorating situation which children in Syria continue to face, and calling for continued access to North West (NW)
Syria to provide lifesaving assistance, the cessation of attacks on children, hospitals, schools and other vital civilian infrastructure like water plants, and for the safe, voluntary and dignified release, repatriation and reintegration of children in North East (NE) Syria. The Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator underscored that 13.4 million people across the country continue to require humanitarian aid, 20 per cent more than in 2020. This includes over 6 million children (increase from 4.8 million estimated for Humanitarian Response Plan 2020) who are taking the hardest blow, compounded by the economic crisis and socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

March saw a considerable increase in the number of reported COVID-19 cases, equally affecting humanitarian workers though limited testing in all parts of the country makes the extent of the outbreak impossible to assess with certainty.

As of 29 March, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has recorded a total 18,638 cases of COVID-19 in government-controlled areas, along with 1,247 deaths. In NW Syria, there were a total of 21,289 confirmed cases, including a total of 637 related deaths. In NE Syria, 9,898 cases have been reported, with 375 deaths. WHO has reported an increase in the weekly trend of new cases across Syria, by 22%, 88%, and 44% in weeks 10, 11 and 12 of 2021, respectively. While the data is not comparable due to differences in the overall context and testing modalities, the reported case fatality rates in government-controlled areas, NW Syria and NE Syria, were 6.8%, 3%, and 3.7%, respectively.

The School Health Department in the Ministry of Education (MoE) reported that, since the school opening in September 2020, as of 25 March 2021, 2,534 cases have been identified in schools in government-controlled areas, of which 961 are students and 1,573 are teachers and other education staff. This means 195 newly reported cases (62 students and 133 teachers and staff) since the previous situation report. While officially reported numbers remain low, community transmission in Syria is thought to be widespread.

The preparation for the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccinations from the global COVAX facility is well underway while the first shipment of vaccines is expected to arrive in April. This month, the Ministry of Health (MoH), with the support of WHO and UNICEF, has initiated a COVAX related training of trainers, followed by cascaded training for field staff at governorate level on microplanning, service delivery, communication, infection, prevention and control, as well as adverse events following immunization, and cold chain management. (Please see the subsequent “Summary Analysis of Programme Response” section for UNCEF response).

The security situation in the Al-Hol camp in NE Syria remains very tense. As a result of this deterioration of the security situation, on 28 March, Kurdish security forces (Asayish) announced the launching of a security campaign in the camp.

During the campaign all non-resident staff, including security guards and watchmen, were requested to be outside the camp during the campaign which resulted in vandalism and damage to common areas and humanitarian facilities – including service centres and distribution sites. Among the vandalized facilities were also UNICEF supported education and child protection sites. However, the UNICEF supported Interim Care Centre continued to operate on a 24/7 basis and essential WASH services continued.

In NW Syria, hostilities continued to be recorded in March, adversely impacting humanitarian assistance and workers.

On 18 March, a humanitarian worker was killed in a crossfire between armed individuals, and on the following day, another humanitarian worker was killed and five civilians were injured in an armed clash in the Idleb Governorate. On 20 March 2021, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was detonated in front of a warehouse that belongs to a local NGO, which resulted in the destruction of the warehouse which housed medical supplies. The incident killed and wounded around 10 civilians, three of which were NGO staff.

A significant shelling incidence took place on 21 March targeting the Atareb area close to the Turkish border. This caused significant damages to some NGO structures including a hospital near Bab Al Hawa and several warehouses.

As a result, seven civilians were killed, including a 10-year old boy, his 12-year old cousin and five medical staff. Further, 13 other civilians and medical staff were injured. In addition, the facility went out of service due to the damage it sustained. The hospital had been providing a monthly average of 3,650 outpatient medical services and 177 surgeries, was rendered inoperable as a result of the damage.

As the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in the Rukban makeshift camp on the border with Jordan, OCHA reported some 38 spontaneous departures from the camp to Al-Waha in March. Based on MoH quarantine requirements, the IDPs are accommodated at a centre in Dweir for 14 days before proceeding to shelters in Homs.
UNICEF, as part of a UN inter-agency team, continues to support the IDP response in Al-Waha and Dweir.

The UN continues to advocate for access to close to 12,000 people, mostly women and children, who are living in Rukban, A revision of an interagency operational plan to support the population in Rukban was finalised in March together with SARC. The last time the UN was able to access this location was in September 2019. However, UNICEF, through its collaboration with SARC, continues to support the spontaneous departures of women and children who require medical attention and leave the camp to Al-Waha transit site. This has been necessitated since the closure of the UN supported clinic on the Jordanian side in March 2020, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March,

UNICEF supported two unaccompanied children, both under 12 years , who arrived in Al-Waha, seeking medical attention. UNICEF in Syria continues to coordinate such efforts with UNICEF in Jordan. The latter are directly communicating with the IDPs to ensure that these critical medical cases receive the required support.
The marking of ten years of the Syrian crisis spurred demonstrations and protests across northern Aleppo and Idleb governorates during the reporting period. On 11 and 12 March, several demonstrations were reportedly held by civilians across the Idleb Governorate, calling for the return of internally displaced people to their areas of origin and calling for international support to resolve the conflict.

Devaluation of the local currency against the US Dollar and volatility in the informal exchange rate continued. On 22 March, the Central Bank of Syria announced a new preferential exchange rate of SYP 2,500 to the US Dollar. This is a significant increase from the previous official rate of SYP 1,256, bringing the new rate closer to that in the informal market (over SYP 3,500). The new rate will allow UNICEF to increase the amount of the cash transfer, thus contributing to compensate the devastating impact of inflation on poor families benefiting from UNICEF cash transfer interventions.

As reported in the previous Situation Report, the price of an average food basket saw the highest record last month, an increase of 241% in just 12 months. According to the Syrian Arab Republic COVID-19 Humanitarian Update, issued by OCHA and WHO, “current projections indicate a likely further deterioration of the food security situation ahead, with possible longer-term, entrenched consequences, including an increase of acute and chronic malnutrition.” At the same time, March saw a continued shortage and increase in the price of fuel, making the already-dire situation even worse, and considerably impacting the cost of the humanitarian operation in Syria.