TOP LINE CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The overall scale, scope and complexity of humanitarian needs of people in Syria remain staggering in terms of magnitude and severity with an estimated 13 million people in need across the country, of whom 5.2 million are in areas of acute need. This remains broadly similar to the level of needs reflected in the 2018 HNO and in previous years.
Convergence of crises
Amidst an intensification of hostilities in multiple locations notably Idleb, Afrin, East Ghouta, southern Damascus, northern rural Homs and parts of north east Syria, the first six months of 2018 witnessed 1.2 million population movements as civilians sought to escape the effects of violence. Some 6.2 million people remained long-term displaced across Syria. From January to May 2018, an estimated 760,000 people returned to their communities, the vast majority being internally displaced people (IDPs) and self-organised returns. These returns took place throughout Syria, notably in Aleppo, Ar-Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor governorates. In mid-June, large-scale military operations were launched in the southern parts of the country resulting in the estimated displacement of up to 325,000 women, children and men at the height of the escalation.
With over 2.9 million individuals now estimated to be living in the contested areas in Idleb Governorate and in adjacent Governorates (Hama, Aleppo and Lattakia), over 1.4 million of whom are IDPs, humanitarian partners are extremely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian implications on civilians of a potentially imminent fullscale military operation in northwest Syria in the coming period. These concerns are exacerbated by the high population density in the north-west, as well as the absence of options available for these people to seek refuge and security in other areas. The evolving situation in northeast Syria – as well as in Membij and Afrin – is of further concern given large rates of IDP return to areas highly contaminated by explosive hazards. Humanitarian partners urge all armed actors to strictly adhere to principles and standards of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), including the prohibition on launching of indiscriminate attacks and the respect for principles of proportionality and precaution.
Against a backdrop of ongoing hostilities and violations of international law, no amount of humanitarian assistance and protection services can compensate for a political solution to the crisis and for the respect of basic principles of humanity in the conduct of hostilities.
The Centrality of Protection
Hostilities remain the principal cause of Syria’s humanitarian crisis, resulting in countless civilian deaths and injuries, mass internal displacement, lost livelihoods, deepening poverty and erosion of coping strategies. In this context, the protection of persons affected and at risk must inform humanitarian decision-making and response.
Sustained advocacy to address protection risks, including through respect for IHL remains critical. Protection considerations and principles, in particular do no harm, must continue to be actively mainstreamed across sectors.
Principles of voluntary character, safety, dignity and sustainable reintegration should inform all assistance being provided to areas of return.
Protection and continuity of assistance in areas witnessing changes in control.
During the first half of 2018, Syria has witnessed significant changes in control with the Government of Syria (GoS) taking over East Ghouta and other formerly UN-declared besieged and hard to reach areas like Yarmouk, Yalda, Bebilla and Beit Sahm (YBB-area) and northern rural Homs, parts of northwest Syria and parts of southern Syria. The UN and its partners are particularly concerned by sustained level of needs in these areas, despite ongoing response efforts, and the ability to provide humanitarian and protection assistance without unnecessary interruptions. In these areas, a number of service providers and humanitarian workers have either been unable to continue supporting people in need or have fled these areas over concerns for their safety. At the same time, the ability of Damascus based partners to timely access these areas, and scale-up as needed, has been constrained. In spite of these challenges, the humanitarian community will continue to pursue a collaborative approach under the Whole of Syria (WoS) framework in areas which may witness changes in control to promote the continuity of humanitarian assistance, protection of civilians, including humanitarian workers and service providers, and facilitate a smooth transition between response modalities if required and to the extent feasible.
Humanitarian response efforts
During the first five months of 2018, humanitarian partners continued to respond at scale with 5.4 million people reached each month on average against the 11.2 million people targeted with assistance for the year. During the first half of the year, most sectors reported a high percentage of their activities to be focused on people living in areas of highest severity of need (severity 4-6) as per specific sector analysis. Access and funding constraints, with resources depleted by multiple emergencies, remained key obstacles to reaching more people in need. The humanitarian response in Syria continues to be conducted through multiple response modalities to reach people across Syria based on needs. The significant numbers of people in need in contested areas, the constrained freedom of movement for IDPs requiring ad hoc responses in camps or sites, underlines the continued need of resources, as well as cross-border assistance to reach people inaccessible through alternative response modalities.
Humanitarian partners will continue to adapt their response efforts towards people with the highest severity of need, access permitting, including towards areas witnessing large population movements as a result of hostilities or areas of significant IDP return to avoid secondary displacement. Supplies and programmes will be reoriented to meet emerging needs, when and where feasible, considering the limitations inherent to reprogramming.
This has been the case over the last six months in the responses to Idleb, Afrin, East Ghouta and southwest Syria.
Re-programming across response modalities, however, remains a challenge.
Sustained quality access continues to pose a challenge to reaching people in acute need
Although humanitarian partners continue to prioritize assistance to reach those most in need, people facing acute needs are generally in areas which are harder to access, including approximately 1.1 million of the 1.5 million people living in hard-to-reach areas. Challenges in reaching people most in need include intense hostilities, shifts in control lines and control of territory, disruption of key access routes, extensive explosive hazard contamination, administrative impediments and restrictions on freedom of movement of people and supplies by all parties. The combination of these access constraints, the necessity for re-programming modalities of response, as well as funding challenges continue to limit the ability of humanitarian partners to reach millions of people in need. Of the 1,410 communities not reached with inter-sector assistance between January and April 2018, 77 per cent were in UN-declared hard-to-reach areas. Sustained and quality humanitarian access is also limited in formerly UNdeclared besieged areas and other contested areas that have come under Government control, where efforts by the UN and its partners to ensure continuity of humanitarian response, both in terms of assessments and delivery, have faced constraints and limitations.
With only 37.5 per cent of the 2018 HRP funded⁷, continued under-funding will likely interrupt humanitarian life-saving assistance programmes, with the reallocation of resources to emerging hotspots or high severity areas compromising the gains made for vulnerable people living in areas where needs are also significant. Additional financial commitments from member states are critical to enable the humanitarian community to respond in a principled and responsible manner to humanitarian needs in country, with the required flexibility to re-programme their response as required/ feasible to support an impartial and cost-effective response in view of the fluid situation and changing access dynamics. At the same time, systematic reporting through the Financial Tracking System (FTS) is essential in informing a comprehensive analysis of funding gaps to help address critical, unmet needs.
Quality Assurance Efforts
The quality of the response is underpinned by a shared commitment among humanitarian partners to various response standards. Ensuring appropriate mechanisms through which affected people can provide feedback on the adequacy of humanitarian initiatives will remain essential in ensuring that the needs and concerns of affected populations guide the overall response of the humanitarian community in Syria. A stock-taking of efforts is underway across response hubs to better understand the level of communication with communities, how humanitarian actors obtain affected population feedback on the response, and maintain ethical standards of behaviour. Results will inform efforts to enhance needs analysis moving forward.
With the crisis now entering its eighth year, humanitarian partners are reflecting on the parameters of the response inside Syria. Efforts have started to enhance the resilience component of the response, thereby reducing the degree and frequency with which communities depend on external humanitarian assistance to cover their most basic needs.
Resilience-oriented programming has started in areas that are sufficiently stable, and where return of IDPs has been more prominent, whilst overall response efforts continue to be focused on the delivery of humanitarian lifesaving assistance to those in most urgent need, including displaced populations and areas affected by limited availability of goods and disruption of basic services.
Resilience programmes are also needed in areas witnessing changes in control to address deep rooted issues around negative coping mechanisms.
Maintaining humanitarian space
Humanitarian organisations operating in Syria are committed to advancing humanitarian principles, recognizing that neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action is critical to their ability to address needs wherever they are found. However, respect for humanitarian space and the ability of partners to act in accordance with these fundamental principles is under increasing strain, including in terms of the ability of humanitarian partners to conduct independent assessments and analysis of needs to inform programming and reach those most affected in a sustained manner.
There is also increased concern with regard to growing interference of non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and Local Councils that hamper humanitarian space in many contested areas. Humanitarian partners remain steadfast in their commitment to principled humanitarian action and the need to collectively advocate for the preservation of humanitarian space.