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Recent Developments in Northwest Syria - Situation Report No. 20 - As of 9 September 2020

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Syria
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OCHA
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HIGHLIGHTS

• 138 people have tested positive for COVID19 in northwest Syria as of 8 September.
Response efforts focus on contact tracing, containing the spread of the virus and raising awareness about COVID-19 risks and precautions.

• Increasing hostilities continue to be reported in the Idleb area and northern Aleppo, especially in locations south of the M4 highway. Explosive hazards and tensions between non-state armed groups further imperil the lives of civilians.

• COVID-19 and economic deterioration compound existing humanitarian needs across all sectors in all parts of northwest Syria.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

The humanitarian situation remains dire as the additional strains related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn in Syria continue to impact the 4.1 million people living in northwest Syria. Nearly a decade of conflict marked by multiple displacements, economic shocks, military operations and violence is continuously eroding the resilience of the population. An estimated 2.8 million people rely on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs such as shelter, food, water and health.

Of the 6,652 tests carried as of 8 September, 138 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in northwest Syria. Since the confirmation of the first positive case on 9 July, two deaths associated with COVID-19 were reported while 81 patients have reportedly recovered. Of the 55 active cases, 32 cases are in Aleppo governorate’s Afrin, Al Bab, Jarablus and Jebel Saman districts, while 23 cases are in Idleb governorate’s Idleb, Ariha and Harim districts.
Most of those identified presented mild symptoms, and others were asymptomatic. As of 8 September, seven isolation hospitals and 11 isolation treatment centres for primary care level management (called COVID-19 Community Treatment Centres, or CCTCs) were active in northwest Syria. Two PCR machines were delivered this week, one to a laboratory in Afrin city in northern Aleppo governorate, and another to the existing laboratory in Idleb city to complement the existing testing capacity. Efforts remain concentrated on contact tracing, interrupting virus transmissions and reducing secondary infections. Health partners continue to raise awareness about COVID-19 precautions among local communities and other stakeholders, emphasizing practices to prevent transmissions including hygiene practices, self-isolation and physical distancing. Further transmission risk mitigation measures implemented include limits on movements, markets, gatherings and commercial activities. In terms of humanitarian assistance, precautions enacted by humanitarian actors prior to the identification of COVID-19 cases in northwest Syria continue to be implemented and strengthened, to safeguard both staff and local communities. Work is ongoing to intensify interventions to strengthen infection prevention and control at health facilities as a means to protect healthcare workers and prevent transmission from healthcare service delivery points, which is of high priority. At the end of August,16 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, face shields, gloves and aprons were provided for the use of humanitarian staff working on the ground.

The recent economic downturn, marked by the instability of the Syrian Pound (SYP), has eroded the purchasing power of people in northwest Syria. One study indicates that the minimum amount of money that people need to buy items essential to their survival has increased by 67% from May to June 2020 when the value of the SYP plummeted, largely due to the increase of prices for food items. According to a comparative review, 71% of households in northwest Syria in assessed communities reported to have insufficient income to meet their basic needs, marking a 25% increase between January and June 2020 . According to a study conducted by a UN partner, 74% of assessed households in northwest Syria indicated that food is one of their priority needs while livelihoods followed with 60%. Moreover, the Turkish Lira (TRY) has been increasingly used as a transactional currency in northwest Syria, with basic commodities such as fuel, bread, transport and telecommunications services now reportedly priced in TRY. People without adequate access to currencies in use risk being excluded from markets or facing higher prices for the same goods and services because of exchange rate disparities – further marginalising the more vulnerable members of society. The devaluation of the SYP intensifies the precarious economic situation and is worsened by the impacts of COVID-19. According to a survey by a UN partner, income loss, price increases, loss of humanitarian assistance and forced business closures were communities’ main concerns about the economic impact of COVID-19 in northwest Syria.

These developments further compound the humanitarian needs driven by hostilities and displacement, with northwest Syria still hosting some 2.7 million displaced people. Most recently, 220,000 people were recorded to have returned to their homes or previous places of displacement to areas, mostly along the M4 and west of the M5 highways– areas in proximity to the frontlines that have witnessed increased levels of hostilities since early July. Findings from an assessment by an NGO found that in 72 percent of communities assessed, prevalence of destroyed shelters were reported, compared to 27 percent across northwest Syria, driving overcrowding in available shelters and illustrating the difficult conditions facing returnees.

Families in 75 percent of assessed communities reportedly cannot afford essential food items, and half have insufficient access to water. In the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, these conditions increase the risk of transmission among this highly vulnerable population. The dire conditions in these areas parallel the extreme needs prevalent across other parts of the northwest, where deteriorating conditions continue to increase reliance on humanitarian assistance and diminish positive coping strategies. Concerns about weather conditions remain prominent with a heatwave in early September.

Several cases of sun stroke were reported in IDP settlements in the Idleb area as well as fire incidents affecting tents in northern Aleppo governorate and the Idleb area. In one such instance, a fire reportedly resulted in the death of three children in Kafnouran camp in Barisha community in Idleb governorate on 6 September. At the same time, the preparations for the approaching winter season are expected to put a further strain people’s finances, especially in light of rising costs.

Increased levels of military hostilities have been reported in northwest Syria, particularly in the vicinity of frontlines in the Idleb area and in areas south of the M4 highway, with more frequent shelling reported since early July 2020. Moreover, the prevalence of attacks using improvised explosive devices and incidents involving explosive remnants of war such as landmines continue to endanger the lives of civilians. Reports continued of tensions between non-state armed groups escalating into armed confrontations and skirmishes, creating increased risks for civilians as well as for the conduct of humanitarian activities.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.