Midyear update: Syria

‘A humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes’

Al-Shaar neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo ( Hameed Marouf/UNHCR)

Remember those 10 crises and trends to watch in 2019 we presented back in January? We’ve been keeping an eye on them, reporting on how areas from climate change to political transitions in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are impacting humanitarian needs and response. With 2019 just about half over, it’s time for an update.

Here’s what’s changed over the past six months, what we’re paying special attention to, and how it may affect the lives and livelihoods of people on the ground. Look for two updates every day this week, starting today with climate displacement and Syria.

 

Be sure to share your thoughts – and ideas for our continuing coverage – at [email protected] or @thenewhumanitarian

A win by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad now seems even more of a fait accompli, but with a government assault on the rebel-held northwest barrelling on, hundreds of thousands of civilians – and maybe millions – are likely to be stuck in the line of fire before the war’s end.

What’s new:

 

A Russia-Turkey brokered “buffer zone” that had been keeping a fragile calm in rebel-held Idlib province and its surroundings has now collapsed, forcing an estimated 330,000 people to flee their homes since the beginning of May. Civilians are dying in airstrikes and shelling, and hospitals and other healthcare facilities – even ones that shared their coordinates with the Syrian government in a UN-run “deconfliction” programme – are being bombed. UN relief chief Mark Lowcock recently called the situation “a humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes”. Meanwhile, Syrian NGOs are crying foul over a UN plan to shift most of the decision-making for aid operations in the country to Damascus, a move they say will give al-Assad more power over relief work and make it harder to do an already difficult job in places like Idlib.

 

Why we’re watching:

 

While estimates of how many people live in and around Idlib have long hovered around 2.5 million, the truth is that displacement is happening fast, and counting people in a warzone is far from an exact science. We do know that many of the people who have fled the northwest in the past few months have been displaced many times over through more than eight years of war in Syria. They likely have no homes standing to return to and, as they edge towards the closed border with Turkey, many may soon have nowhere else left to go.

 

Keep in mind:

Idlib is grabbing headlines for good reason, but there are many other unknowns in Syria, including what will become of the tens of thousands of people at al-Hol camp in the northeast: many of them fled so-called Islamic State’s last territory in the country, meaning they’ll likely carry the group’s stigma for years to come, whether they are from Syria or elsewhere. That includes some uneasiness on the part of donors, who worry their aid money could go to people or groups they consider to be terrorists. And while people are still leaving Rukban, the remote camp on the Jordan-Syria border, some 27,000 people remain, and they haven’t seen an aid shipment in more than four months.

(TOP PHOTO: Al-Shaar neighbourhood in eastern Aleppo.)

Read all our midyear updates: Ten humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2019

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