Whole of Syria Health Cluster Bulletin, 1 - 30 September 2018

Situation Report
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  • Conflict marked part of the humanitarian response in September, with health partners in Gaziantep and Damascus implementing plans for the response to a potential full-scale battle for Idleb. Although conflict escalated during the first part of September, the presidents of Russia and Turkey agreed to establish a “demilitarized zone” on the 17th of September in order to avert a potentially catastrophic military confrontation. In NE Deir-ez-Zor, intense battles continued for control over the last remaining ISIL stronghold.
  • The Health Cluster has been working on the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview and Humanitarian Response Plan. The OCHA workshop in Beirut was attended by over 100 participants from across the humanitarian sectors. Initial planning figures were presented and discussed, and disability was highlighted as a cross-sectoral issue.
  • During a meeting in Amman in September, health cluster partners decided to pause the activities of the South of Syria Health Cluster, as cross-border access is no longer possible. OCHA and health partners are preparing a shipment of materials to Damascus that were intended for Southern Syria but still remain in Amman.
  • With increased access, the public health response for Ar-Raqqa governorate is expanding.

Situation update

In September, the Commission of Inquiry reported that in the first six months of this year, as proGovernment forces moved to recapture large swathes of territory, more than one million Syrian men, women, and children were displaced in six key battles. These numbers further increased during the month of September. In southern rural Deir-ez-Zor, the condition of an estimated 27,000 people displaced since June, as well as the 15,000 civilians who remain trapped in the ISIL-controlled Hajin enclave along the east bank of the Euphrates River, are worrying. Especially in Hajin, ongoing airstrikes and ground offensives, combined with explosive hazard contamination and reported high levels of need are a significant concern.

Returnees are another concern, with nearly 225,000 people having returned to their homes in Deir-ez-Zor governorate and over 152,000 to Ar-Raqqa City over the past year. The current conditions of return are not very conductive in these governorates, with high levels of explosive hazard contamination and destruction further complicated by restricted access by the humanitarian community. This limits the availability of basic services. As compared to previous years, the FAO reports that the production of wheat and barley in the area declined sharply in 2018 due to erratic weather, resulting in an additional strain on income and food security.

In Idlib nearly 3 million people faced the threat of an intense battle in a densely populated area, with the potential to result in a large-scale humanitarian disaster. Humanitarian actors continued implement and update response plans, including preparedness training for chemical attacks, strengthening referral systems and pre-positioning essential supplies. On the 17th of September, the presidents of Turkey and Russia agreed to establish a “demilitarized zone” around Idleb in order to avert a potentially catastrophic military confrontation. This has resulted in a reduction in hostilities and numbers of casualties. The demilitarized zone will go into effect on October 15th, 2018, once conditions have been met for the removal of heavy weapons from this zone by all parties.

At the end of September, both the US and the UK governments asked implementing partners to suspend deliveries to Idleb through the main Bab al-Hawa crossing between Syria and Turkey. This following reports that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a militant group with links to al-Qaeda and sanctioned by the UN, was benefiting from levies they were imposing on trucks at the Turkish border. Continued imposition of this suspension could result in a significant blow to humanitarian assistance, as the majority of aid to NW Syria goes through Bab al-Hawa. The second border crossing in NW Syria does not have the capacity to deal with the volume of humanitarian assistance currently being provided.