While the world has breathed a collective sigh of relief following the September agreement made by Turkey and Russia – thus halting the advance of troops, the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib has yet to exhale. It remains one of the last rebel strongholds in the conflict. As world leaders work to decide Idlib’s political future, many workers toil to provide aid in the holdout province.
Aid in the Holdout Province
Presently the area known as the holdout province is home to three million people. There are around 1.5 million people living in the area who are internally displaced, having fled to escape previous rounds of fighting. This influx of people has stretched already scarce resources (housing, food and medicine) even more thinly.
The United Nations has been doing its part to help, both inside and out of the diplomatic arena. By running cross-border operations from Turkey, the U.N. has organized a convoy of more than 1,000 trucks to deliver winter supplies, such as blankets, coats, boats, gas stoves and plastic shelter materials. As winter approaches and nightly temperatures become cold – especially for those without proper housing – many will be glad to have the extra warmth.
Through its food assistance arm (The World Food Program or WFP), the U.N. is also doing what it can to give food aid in the holdout province. In October alone, the WFP was able to feed 3.2 million people. Food deliveries were able to reach 14 Syrian provinces, including the more isolated areas of Syria like the Aleppo, rural Damascus and Ar-Raqqa governorates, which fed almost 291,865. Specific packages addressing malnutrition and nutrient deficiency were provided to more than 100,000 children – reaching many in the holdout governorate.
Medical and Psychological Care
Medical attention is difficult to find in any conflict; keeping facilities well supplied and away from the fighting can be an impossible task. In September, four hospitals were damaged in attacks. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is combating this shortage, supporting ten health facilities, as well as two mobile clinics and four emergency response teams. The teams deliver kits stocked with clothing and sanitary supplies. Through the IRC’s efforts, 860,000 patients were treated in 2017, with 80,000 people being treated every month.
Still, while it’s easy to focus on the physical (visible) needs of survivors, the emotional needs of children often – out of necessity – go overlooked. However, the IRC operates a safe space that gives psychosocial support to children as well as providing the children with a place to learn and play. In the future, the IRC plans to distribute kits containing games, books and learning aid through this center. As a consequence of war, children are exposed to the harsh realities of life in a conflict zone; they are denied an education that would enable them to succeed as adults in peacetime. Even small learning toys and aids make a significant difference in light of the alternatives.
With the conflict stretching into its eighth year, recent peace talks have been referred to as “a glimmer of hope” by high ranking U.N. members. Syrian representatives have agreed to send 50 representatives to the negotiating committee, and have agreed to speak with 50 representatives from the opposition. Unfortunately, they have refused to ratify any representatives of Syrian civil society in the negotiations. Only fair, fully-represented and public negotiations can truly end the suffering in the country. Until then, aid in the holdout province must continue in order to help these refugees survive.
– John Glade