The Syrian complex humanitarian emergency is characterized by more than 10 years of ongoing hostilities and their long-term effects, including large-scale internal and cross-border displacement, widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and significant violations of international humanitarian law.
In 2022, more than 14 million people need humanitarian assistance, an increase of 1.2 million from the previous year. Syria remains one of the largest humanitarian responses in the world, with 6.8 million people per month receiving assistance in the past year.
In 2011, peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government eventually escalated into a civil war between the Syrian government and anti-government rebel groups. The conflict includes many different actors with varying motivations, including foreign governments and extremist organizations such as the Islamic State.
In addition to conflict, other drivers of humanitarian needs include a deterioration in the country’s macroeconomic situation, climatic shocks and humanitarian access constraints. Needs are expected to keep rising in 2022 with new displacements and inadequate essential services.
(Photo Source: Bo Viktor Nylund/ UNICEF MENA)
- 12 million people are food insecure, including 2.5 million that are severely food insecure.
- Experts estimate 6.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) with more than 2 million people living in 1,760 informal settlements and planned camps.
- The World Bank estimates more than 50% of Syrians live in extreme poverty. Before the conflict, extreme poverty in Syria was virtually non-existent.
- The United Nations (UN) says that between March 2011 and March 2021, more than 350,000 people were killed in the Syrian conflict. However, the number of people killed is believed to be higher. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented more than 494,000 fatalities during this same period.
Socio-economic conditions have been deteriorating rapidly in Syria, with the depreciation of the local currency leading to inflation that worsens food insecurity and pushes people into poverty. According to the World Bank, between 2010 and 2019, Syria’s GDP shrunk by more than half.
In their April 2022 update, the World Bank expects Syria will “continue to be mired by the low intensity conflict, turmoil in Lebanon and Turkey, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine and associated sanctions.”
The country’s debilitating economic crisis is severely affecting Syrian families. A report released in May 2022 by the Norwegian Refugee Council found only one in 10 people reported being able to meet the $206 needed each month to cover food, rent, education and other essentials. The situation has forced people into new survival strategies such as eating less, selling fuel aid to buy food, burning old shoes to keep warm and skipping urgent medical procedures.
During the second half of 2021, hostilities re-intensified in northern and southern Syria, triggering new displacements and destruction. There are an estimated 6.9 million (IDPs) in Syria, and their needs are significant, particularly for the more than 2 million people in settlements and planned camps, often hosted in inadequate shelters with limited access to basic services. In July 2022, 7,842 people were newly internally displaced.
More than 10 years of ongoing hostilities have led millions of Syrians to flee the country in search of safety and basic needs. As of July 31, 5,607,797 Syrian refugees were formally registered in neighboring countries. Of this figure, 65% are hosted by Turkey.
Inflation and deteriorating economic conditions in Turkey have led Syrian refugees to report increased tension with host community members. Fearing discrimination and negative attitudes, some Syrians report a reluctance to speak Arabic in public spaces or feeling unsafe.
In June, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) verified or monitored the return to Syria of around 5,700 refugees from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. More than 22,000 voluntary refugee returns have occurred this year through June 30.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says 12 million people in Syria are food insecure, with 2.5 million severely food insecure. In June, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released the Hunger Hotspots early warning report on acute food insecurity covering June to September 2022. In the report, Syria is among the hotspots with deteriorating conditions and is a country of very high concern.
The Syrian government has long kept aid from moving across front lines from government-held parts of the country into non-government-controlled areas. Cross–border aid from Turkey to northwestern Syria has become a critical avenue for getting humanitarian assistance to those who need it.
In July 2022, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution to extend deliveries into northwestern Syria through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing for six months. Ongoing renewal by the Security Council of this critical humanitarian access corridor is used as a political pawn by members of the Council, with regular threats to not adopt or veto the resolution. Millions of displaced people depend on cross-border aid, including the delivery of food, for their survival. The food security and livelihoods sector has targeted 1.4 million people for assistance through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing point.
The cost of the Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket in northeast Syria dropped slightly in July compared to June, which is a positive development. The drop was attributed to reductions in the cost of vegetables due to seasonal harvests. However, some regions saw an increase in cost for certain items. For example, the price of bread in Aleppo governorate increased significantly.
Supply chains in general are still functioning but the limited availability of stock and transport fuel are concerns.
Syria saw its worst drought in 70 years in 2021, which affected access to drinking water, electricity generation and irrigation. The water crisis was particularly damaging for the country’s wheat harvest, with a loss in production of more than 1 million tons in 2021 compared to the previous year.
The long-running war has severely damaged and neglected infrastructure, but the water situation is exacerbated by the impacts of climate change and other weather events. For 1.9 million people, 18 health care facilities and 311 schools in northwest Syria, water delivered by truck has become the primary water source. However, water deliveries are expensive given increases in fuel and electricity prices.
In northeast Syria, known as the country’s food basket, the quantity and quality of wheat flour has declined due in part to drought.
Food and cash assistance
High food prices and lower-than-average agricultural yields, compounded by ongoing inflation, exacerbates food insecurity in Syria. Children’s nutrition remains a critical concern, with the rate of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) increasing this year in northwest Syria.
Among the top three needs reported for newly displaced people were food security and livelihood assistance.
A combination of emergency food products, food rations and cash transfers for food are needed to meet the diversity of nutritional needs of affected people. In July, the northwest Syria cash working group distributed multipurpose cash worth $460,286, benefiting 28,569 people in Idleb and Aleppo governorates.
Access to water and sanitation
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has described water access in northwest Syria as unpredictable, unsustainable and costly. More than a decade of war has damaged infrastructure and climate change exacerbates the situation. Of out 667 water systems in the northwest, 43% of them ae not functional, forcing families to depend on water delivered by truck which is expensive and often cost prohibitive.
Additionally, insufficient rainfall and low water levels in the Euphrates River have resulted in reduced access to water for drinking and domestic use for more than 5 million people. This has also led to harvest and income losses, an increase in waterborne diseases and protection risks.
Gaps in funding are an obstacle to providing clean water and sanitation in northwest Syria. According to UNOCHA’s Funding Gap Analysis for July to September 2022, the water, sanitation and hygiene cluster faces an 85% funding gap.
In a region where more than 90% of people live in poverty, purchasing water has a negative impact on household income.
Health care access and quality have severely deteriorated after years of conflict, an economic crisis, and reduced donor funding. The water crisis has forced families and aid organizations to truck in water, which is becoming more costly due to rising fuel and electricity prices. Without access to water, there has been an increase in diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition and skin conditions.
Families often cannot afford medications, and health care workers are working in challenging environments without access to adequate equipment and medicines.
Additional funding is needed to address shortages in staff, medicines and equipment. Funding cuts have resulted in reduced operational capacities, prompting some hospitals to scale back their services, putting people’s lives at risk.
In northwest Syria, keeping the cross-border points open is essential for ensuring humanitarian aid reaches affected people, including medical supplies. In short, border closures put people’s lives at risk.
Syrian refugees living in Turkey the country and those who cross the border for health care also need health services. According to the Syria Health Cluster, 74% of antenatal care visits in 2022 were cross-border visits.
Hospitals in Syria have been subjected to airstrikes, missile attacks and shelling, resulting in fewer patient consultations, loss of health-related infrastructure and increased risks for health workers. Health workers in Syria have been targeted and face risks to their lives. Supporting these workers and providing them with the protection and equipment required to treat people is critical.
Continued promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations is needed, including increasing vaccine literacy. As of Aug. 31, Syria had 57,026 cases of COVID-19 and 3,163 deaths. Nearly 14% of the population is at least partially vaccinated as of Aug. 22. Challenges to increasing vaccination rates include the lack of electricity and infrastructure and waning interest in the vaccine.
The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises, including finding long-term solutions for communities in protracted humanitarian crises like Syria.
If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, please contact development.
(Photo: Shukran returned to her home in Deir ez-Zor a year ago. She received training and support for small projects from UNHCR and is now able to provide for her family’s needs. Source: UN Refugee Agency in Syria via Twitter.)
If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.
We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help with disaster recovery, please email Regine A. Webster.
Philanthropic and government support
CDP, through its COVID-19 Response Fund, awarded $200,000 to Medair in 2020 to support national efforts to reduce COVID-19 transmission in Lebanon and Sudan. In Lebanon, Medair provided technical support to staff working in triage and isolation centers, training for community health workers and information dissemination to counter myths about the virus in the Bekaa Valley, where many Syrian refugees lived.
Syria’s 2022-2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) seeks $4.44 billion to reach 11.8 million people in need. Donors have funded 23.9% of the current HRP ($1.06 billion). The largest sources of HRP funding include the U.S. ($505.6 million), Germany ($189.6 million) and Canada ($53.8 million). The response plan funding requirements have grown nearly annually since 2012, demonstrating the significant and growing humanitarian needs in the country.
More ways to help
As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support local economic recovery and ensure material donations do not detract from disaster recovery needs.
Donors can help in the following ways:
- Provide unrestricted core funding for vetted humanitarian NGO partners that support the HRP. This is an efficient way to ensure the best use of resources in a coordinated manner. Funding the NGOs that have contributed to the HRP ensures that resources are directed to support the plan and use humanitarian partners’ best knowledge.
- Understand that recovery is possible in protracted and complex crisis settings. Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that there are early and long-term recovery needs, too. We know that people who have been affected by shocks in complex humanitarian contexts can recover, improve their situation and build their resilience to withstand future shocks without waiting until the crisis is over, which may take years. Recovery is possible, and funding will be needed for recovery and resilience efforts alongside humanitarian funding. Recovery will take a long time, and funding will be needed now and throughout.
- Support institutional development of local and national civil society in Syria. Civil society was extremely underdeveloped and nascent in Syria before the crisis began, yet most of the humanitarian response is implemented by local groups formed in the last 10 years. Supporting these newly formed local civil society actors with unrestricted operational support and capacity strengthening is critical to rebuilding Syria and helping communities recover.
- Recognize there are places and ways that private philanthropy can help that other donors may not. Private funders can support nimble and innovative solutions that leverage or augment the larger humanitarian system response, either filling gaps or modeling change that, once tested and proven, can be taken to scale within the broader humanitarian response structure. Philanthropy can also provide sustainable funding to national and local organizations that support needed operational costs.
Complex Humanitarian Emergencies
CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
Water is one of the most necessary elements for life, yet according to the World Health Organization/UNICEF, 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water. In addition, 4.5 billion people lack safely-managed sanitation facilities. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) principles are of tremendous concern in everyday life, but can be heightened during an emergency or disaster.
Drought is often defined as an unusual period of drier than normal weather that leads to a water shortage. Drought causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other disaster.