2017 IN REVIEW
Humanitarian Situation in 2017
During 2017, the humanitarian situation in Syria continued deteriorating with continued high levels of conflict and complete disrespect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL), including attacks on health facilities. The violent context and security constraints resulted in large population displacements, hampered access to services and a general interference in the provision of aid.
Continuation of hostilities and ongoing Conflict
In January 2017, a ceasefire agreement brokered between Russia and Turkey brought an initial glimmer of hope that a significant reduction in hostilities across the country would follow, and consequently lead to the improvement of the conditions of civilians suffering after more than six years of war. Following the siege to Eastern Aleppo city in December 2016, during which parties to the conflict had showed an alarming disregard to IHL, more than 36,000 people were evacuated to non-state armed group controlled areas in northwestern Syria. However, hopeful expectations proved to be short-lived as hostilities soon resumed in many places across Syria, resulting in tremendous humanitarian suffering.
Displacement across Syria
During 2017, more than 2.79 million people were displaced from different parts of Syria, which represented an increase of 36.5 per cent from the number of displacements tracked the previous year. The increase in the displacement numbers was largely caused by the large escalation in violence experienced in Deir Ez-zor and Ar-Raqqa governorates. By the end of the year, 4.5 million people remained in hard-to-reach areas, including 540,000 people in 11 besieged areas. Altogether, an estimated 13.5 million people, including 6 million children, required humanitarian assistance across Syria.
Security and access constraints for aid provision
Ongoing conflict during 2017 continued hampering service provision across the country. More than one in three schools were either damaged or destroyed while others were used as collective shelters or for other purposes. Access to safe water remained limited for most of the population, with increased water quality assurances necessary to ensure the population had continuous access to safe water. Alternate water supply services and WASH supplies were available but relatively expensive, pushing vulnerable families to adopt unsafe coping strategies. People in besieged areas and other areas lacked sufficient access to critical WASH services and supplies. Pockets of acute and chronic malnutrition emerged in a number of localized areas. The limited access of boys and girls under five and pregnant and lactating women, especially those living in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, to lifesaving preventive and curative nutrition services related to Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) in emergencies, micronutrient supplementation, and treatment for acute malnutrition added to their vulnerability. This was even more blatant for those living under harsh conditions, or in areas with inadequate community and institutional capacity.
Health facilities under attack
Health care facilities continued to be under attack in 2017, a trend which appears to be characteristic of the Syrian conflict. The Gaziantep-based Health Cluster received reports of 192 incidents of attacks on health care in 2017, of which 122 were verified. As a result of these attacks, 73 people, including 28 health workers and ten patients were killed and 149 people wounded, including 46 health workers and four patients. Furthermore, 73 medical facilities and 69 ambulances were affected as a result of these attacks.
Interference in the provision of humanitarian assistance
The ability of humanitarian organizations to access the affected population in different parts of the country faced a variety of challenges. In 2017, the Syrian Government approved 47 UN inter-agency convoy requests in full or with a higher number of targeted beneficiaries, out of 172 requests (27.3 per cent). Compared to the previous year, this approval rate decreased considering that in 2016 the approval rate stood at 45.3 per cent of the requests.
In the northwestern part of Syria, interference by armed groups in humanitarian work emerged as a major challenge. Throughout 2017, humanitarian organizations faced demands by armed groups to hand over a percentage of their aid. Furthermore, interference in the selection criteria of beneficiaries and staff employment took place. In addition to the challenges faced by humanitarian organizations in northwestern Syria, the hardening regulatory environment in Turkey forced many International NGOs (INGOs), to reduce or suspend their activities, or relocate to other countries in the region. This put increasing pressure on the Syrian NGO community, which continued to work exemplarily in reaching the affected population in many parts of the country.