2020 IN REVIEW
SYRIA CROSS-BORDER HUMANITARIAN FUND AT A GLANCE
Humanitarian situation in 2020
In 2020, as the conflict entered its ninth year, the humanitarian situation in Syria – one of the world’s direst – deteriorated further due to ongoing hostilities, large displacements, harsh winter conditions, and pre-existing needs that continued to compound. Increased levels of violence and rapidly changing frontlines placed vulnerable people at immediate risk and led to mass displacements in the first few months of the year. Across Syria, 11.1 million people were in need at the beginning of the year, including 2.8 million people in the northwest and 1.4 million in the northeast. By early 2021 this had increased to 13.4 million people across the country, including 10 million women and children, and 2.3 million people with disabilities aged 12 and above.
Military escalation and the humanitarian impact
The military escalation that began in late 2019 carried through to 2020 with devastating effects on communities. In January and February, some 100 communities in southeast Idlib and the western Aleppo countryside had been largely emptied due to a change in controlling parties. This was also the case in several western neighbourhoods of Aleppo city.
Communities close to the frontlines were almost deserted, and some people also fled other locations. Many of those who stayed behind were already vulnerable and faced further risks due to their inability to evacuate. In 2020, 10 health facilities were damaged by air strikes and shelling, resulting in an abrupt halt to life-saving assistance. In February, at least 72 hospitals and health-care centres in Idlib and Aleppo governorates shut down, suspended or reduced operations due to insecurity or mass displacement. People caught up in the violence increasingly relied on humanitarian assistance. This was particularly challenging as many humanitarian workers were among the people displaced.
With the announcement of a ceasefire on 5 March 2020, air strikes in northwest Syria mostly came to a halt, while sporadic instances of shelling continued along the frontlines, mostly focused on areas south of the M4 highway and around the M5 highway in the Idlib area.
In 2020 there were numerous deadly attacks, including the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), especially in the northern Aleppo and Tel Abiad-Ras Al Ain area.
Multiple, large and protracted displacement
Some 1.8 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) movements occurred across Syria in 2020, mainly because of the hostilities in the country’s northwest. In Idlib and Aleppo governorates, almost 1 million people – equivalent to almost one third of the civilian population in the Idlib area– had been displaced over a three-month period before the March 5 ceasefire. In northwest Idlib governorate, people were increasingly displaced into small areas, where existing services were severely overwhelmed. The immense humanitarian needs in the area persisted after the ceasefire given the preceding months of violence and the large-scale displacement.
By the end of 2020, more than 2.7 million people were displaced in northwest Syria, while 1.6 million IDPs were living in 1,302 IDP sites. Many moved into unfinished buildings, substandard public structures – including mosques, schools and wedding halls – or built makeshift shelters, along roadsides, under olive trees or other available spaces. The mass influx of IDPs throughout Aleppo and Idlib governorates placed additional pressure on host communities, stretching already insufficient basic services and infrastructure well beyond their capacities. Women and children made up more than 80 percent of the newly displaced people while more than 21,000 IDPS were persons with specific needs.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in northwest Syria was identified on 9 July, and by 31 December there were 20,270 confirmed cases – 11,073 in the Idlib area and 9,197 in northern Aleppo governorate. Of these cases, 340 deaths related to COVID-19 were recorded and 12,822 people reportedly recovered.
The timely provision of humanitarian assistance was crucial in minimizing the potential impact of COVID-19 in northwest Syria, where crowded living conditions, physical and mental stress, and deprivation left people vulnerable to respiratory infections.
The pandemic had a significant impact on the humanitarian situation, driving additional humanitarian needs and exacerbating pre-existing needs. Restrictions of movement and limitations on markets and other commercial activities – aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 – increased humanitarian needs and affected the economy. Key humanitarian activities and procedures were adapted to mitigate risks, but in some cases, they had to be suspended. From 5 December, individuals could not use the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on weekends, but this did not affect humanitarian and commercial crossings.
Economic downturn and devaluation of the Syrian Pound
In June, the value of the Syrian Pound (SYP) began to decline rapidly, losing half of its value within a month and reaching new historical lows. In 2020, it devalued some 200 per cent, resulting in massive price increases and triggering shortages of food and other key supplies in markets.
The price of basic goods needed for survival, such as food, water, fuel and hygiene items, increased every month and reached historical highs in May 2020. The economic decline added a further layer of complexity in an already challenging operating environment. For instance, key humanitarian activities such as water trucking or local procurement of food items reportedly became more difficult due to the instability of the currency. High prices and limited availability of high-grade fuel affected individual households in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance, as well as commercial supply chains and markets.
Flooding and Winterization
The dire humanitarian needs were exacerbated during the winter months, as communities were exposed to harsh weather and flooding. During the first quarter of the year, newly arrived IDPs were heavily affected by the severe cold. As temperatures dropped below zero, many people resorted to measures such as burning unsafe materials for heat, at times causing uncontrolled fires and toxic fumes. In November and December, more than 1,904 IDPs were directly affected by flooding, which destroyed or damaged 450 tents, impeded movement in many IDP sites, and in some cases, caused sewage overflows.