Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
After a decade of crisis in Syria, humanitarian needs remain extensive and multifaceted across the country. Hostilities causing civilian casualties, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and violations of IHL and IHRL remain features of the crisis, but they have become increasingly localized in 2020. The security situation remains fluid, particularly in north-west Syria (NWS), where a ceasefire is in place but breaches have been reported, – as well as in southern areas under local reconciliation agreements.
Syria’s economy has experienced an unprecedented downturn, exacerbated by issues including years of conflict and the financial crisis in Lebanon. The resulting sharp depreciation of the Syrian currency to an all-time low has spurred unprecedented price increases for staple goods, particularly bread and fuel. COVID-19 has been a further aggravating factor, negatively impacting an already depleted workforce and debilitated health system, in which only 58 per cent of hospitals are reported to be fully functional.
Over the past year, an already complex humanitarian access situation has become more challenging; the number of border-crossing points authorized by the UN Security Council for UN-delivered assistance and supplies has been reduced from four (in 2019) to just one.
The combined impact of these changes has been far-reaching, with several factors currently driving needs. Hostility-induced mass displacements have decreased since March 2020, but life-threatening needs remain disproportionately high among displaced communities. More than 1.5 million of the 2.7 million IDPs in NWS currently shelter in around 1,100 “last resort” sites. Many of these sites are overcrowded, and access to shelter, safe water, food, health and psychosocial support is inadequate.
Acute needs stemming from a lack of access to basic services, livelihoods and economic opportunities, combined with high levels of destruction to critical civilian infrastructure, including health facilities, water systems and schools, are also observed in parts of Deir-ez-Zor, Al-Hasakeh and Raqqa Governorates in north-east Syria; in Dar’a Governorate in the south; and in overburdened host communities in Damascus and Rural Damascus.
Across Syria, the dramatic socioeconomic decline has reduced purchasing power and the availability of essential goods and services. It has also severely limited employment opportunities, adding to growing poverty. The average food basket in Syria cost 247 per cent more in October 2020 than at the same time in 2019. These trends have resulted in a sharp increase in food insecurity – from 7.9 million people a year ago to 9.3 million by July 2020.
Additional ‘silent’ consequences of years of crisis include unprecedented levels of stunting affecting 674,000 children under 5 years of age (a 37 per cent increase compared to 2019); increased morbidity related to non-communicable diseases; gender-based violence (GBV); and widespread psychological trauma, especially in children. More families are being forced to make unacceptable trade-offs to survive, including skipping meals, taking on additional debt, and pre-emptively moving to areas where humanitarian assistance is assured, such as camps.
The widespread lack of livelihoods and employment opportunities, inadequate access to basic services and growing food insecurity have become principal drivers of need, denying millions of people the ability to meet their basic needs in a dignified, self-sustained manner.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
These trends are expected to continue into 2021, leading to an increase in PiN from 11.1 million to an estimated 13 million in 2021. The scale of needs stemming from new or recurrent displacements will depend on a potential increase in hostilities in NWS, as well as other locations. Syria remains a ‘protection crisis,’ with related needs resulting from hostilities, widespread explosive hazard contamination, psychological trauma, GBV and family separation, among others.
Returns are expected to continue in line with trends in 2020. Even if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the virus is expected to spread further. It will spare few people, but most acutely affect people living in densely populated areas and/or areas where basic service provision is weak.
Response priorities in 2021
Consequently, humanitarian actors will focus their multisectoral response efforts on the following priorities in 2021:
Respond to critical protection risks, ensuring protection risk assessments inform all humanitarian programming.
Maintain critical basic services, including through the rehabilitation of key civilian infrastructure, with a focus on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on people’s health and its secondary effects on livelihoods, education and protection needs.
Scale up livelihood and agricultural support to respond to growing food insecurity.
Improve chronic malnutrition among under-fives and nutritional deficiencies in pregnant and lactating women through coordinated nutrition, food security, health and WASH interventions.
Address basic needs of the most vulnerable IDP, host community and returnee households as flexibly as possible, including addressing assistance gaps in last-resort IDP sites, with a particular focus on winterization support.
To access people in need, humanitarian responders will continue to leverage and advocate for all cross-border and cross-line response modalities. The UN estimates that 10.5 million people will be targeted with humanitarian assistance in 2021. This is an increase from 9.5 million people at a cost of $4.2 billion, which is a 10 per cent increase compared to 2020.
- Figures for People in need, People targeted and Requirements are pending the finalization of the 2021 HNO and HRP.