2021 in Review
Humanitarian situation in 2021
The protracted crisis in Syria has intensified over the past year. A complex and deepening socio-economic crisis, the knock-on effects of COVID-19, and major losses in food production (high cost of agriculture inputs, including fuel, reduced access to water, climate change and other production-related shocks) have all compromised the national food security situation. As the Syrian crisis marked ten years, the situation deteriorated drastically. About 13.4 million people were in need, up from 11.1 million in 2020.
Food security and malnutrition crisis
Overall, the food security situation in Syria worsened in 2021. The national average price of a standard reference food basket increased by 97 per cent between December 2020 and December 2021. This is the highest ever price since monitoring started in 2013. The national average informal exchange rate weakened by 21 per cent over the last year, reaching SYP 3,543/USD in December 2021, causing the price of main food items, especially imported goods, to increase drastically and further limiting people’s access to food.
In line with the rise in food insecurity, malnutrition levels have increased. In 2021, 4.9 million mothers and children required urgent nutrition supplies in Syria, where most of the nutrition needs are in high severity areas. Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates have more than doubled since last year. Over the same period (2020-2021) stunting increased from 531,000 to 553,000, the number of children under-five with acute wasting increased from 173,000 to 245,000, while a record 265,000 pregnant and lactating women have acute wasting.
Close to three in four households report food as their number one priority need, influenced by financial distress and price fluctuations. With 41 per cent of average household expenditure going to food, families’ ability to afford other goods and services – for example, water, fuel, electricity, and education for children – is diminished.
Since May 2021, the humanitarian situation in northeastern Aleppo and Deir-ez-Zor, Al-Hasakeh and Ar Raqqa Governorates deteriorated further due to significantly reduced water availability and access. Unprecedently low water levels in the Euphrates River, and low water flows into the principal water reservoirs in north-east Syria reduced people’s access to water. Low and erratic rainfall during the 2020/2021 winter season (October-March) and higher-than-average temperatures, led to drought-like conditions in the region during the second quarter of 2021, severely affecting agricultural production. Finally, recurring shutdowns and reduced operational capacity of Alouk water station, supplying about 500,000 people in Al-Hasakeh city and surrounding areas; and other disruptions to the water system, including the Al-Khafsa water station and the Ein El-Bayda water pumping station, further magnified the crisis.
These factors have severely limited access to water in some major towns and cities. The situation has affected public health, as households consume unsafe water and have less water for domestic use, including hygiene and sanitation. The prevalence of water-borne diseases in the affected areas has risen, placing additional strain on a public health system already debilitated by years of crisis and overburdened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had a long and severe fourth wave in 2021, resulting in shortages of life-saving medicines across all public health facilities in Syria. The national stock of medicines in public warehouses was alarmingly low – on average only 20 per cent of the needs were met. Only six per cent of the standard required supply of certain types of anticoagulants (blood thinners) and anesthetic medicines were available. As of 7 December 2021, only about five per cent of the population was vaccinated for COVID-19 in government-controlled areas and north-east Syria due to delays in vaccines supplies. The extremely limited vaccine coverage contributes to the high risk of infections, and it is estimated that at least 20 per cent of cases require hospitalization. As a result, the needs for COVID-19 related medicines remain high, while economic factors and overall market deficits worsen the situation.
Complex and interconnected protection issues continued to worsen in 2021 in an overall context of limited access to humanitarian services, rights, justice, and accountability. Civilians in parts of the country, including north-west, north-east and Southern Syria, are exposed to ongoing and new hostilities, resulting in civilian casualties and forced displacements.
The deteriorating economy and widespread poverty, loss of livelihoods, destruction of housing and property, protracted and multiple cycles of displacement, shortage of natural resources, and continuing pandemic exacerbate protection needs. Contamination with explosive ordnances affects people's daily lives in newly accessible areas and areas of potential return. On average, two out of three survivors of explosive incidents sustain lifelong impairment and require ongoing assistance. The contamination with explosive ordnances also keeps farmers from agricultural activities.
The protection crisis increases people’s reliance on negative coping mechanisms such as child labor, child recruitment, begging, and early/forced marriage. Protection concerns disproportionately affect women and adolescent girls, children, older people, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable people. If unaddressed, the protection consequences can have irreversible effects, particularly on women, children and elderly.
Internal displacement and returns
In 2021, the number of internally displaced people increased from 6.7 million to 6.9 million. Some 346,995 newly displaced people were registered from January to August 2021. New displacements occurred throughout the year near the front-line areas of Aleppo and Idleb governorates and in Dar’a following the hostilities in the summer (June-August) of 2021. As of August 2021, in southern Idleb, 2,800 displaced people returned to Sanjar, Tamanaah, Khan Shaykun, and Ma'arrat An Nu'man.9 Unprecedented levels of destruction were reported, with about 50 per cent of infrastructure and housing damaged. In north-east Syria, particularly in the newly assessed areas with increasing numbers of returnees, the high level of infrastructure destruction, inadequate shelter, limited availability of core services and basic commodities, and the scarcity of job opportunities are driving high humanitarian needs.