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the holdout province
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.

Current Negotiations

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
Photo: Flickr

Displacement in Syria
Syria is a country located in the Middle East that has been in constant warfare since 2011, leaving millions of people displaced.

Today, there are several nonprofit organizations that are directly affecting the lives of people that are affected by war and, as a result, displacement in Syria.

United Nations Work on Displacement in Syria

The United Nations estimates that 6.6 million people are internally displaced in Syria. Refugees considered, there are approximately 12 million people in and bordering Syria that need humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has teamed up with other United Nations humanitarian and development agencies to appeal for $8 billion in new funding to help millions of refugees.

The first aspect of the appeal is the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) for 2018-2019.

The plan will give $4.4 billion in support for over 5 million refugees in neighboring countries and close to 4 million people in the communities hosting these refugees.

The second aspect is known as the 2017 Syria Humanitarian Response Plan and seeks to provide $3.2 billion in humanitarian support and protection to over 13 million people in Syria.

The Case of Idlib

Idlib, a city in northwestern Syria, has been hit with bombings and airstrikes in the past few months. It is estimated that over 1 million people living in Idlib were previously displaced from elsewhere in the country and citizens still face uncertainty with constant violence.

Many citizens remain trapped in the city, with the main exits of the city closed. It is estimated that 30,000 people from the city have fled the country since the violence began. More than 2 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance even before the violence began.

Displacement in Syria and Water Issues

Overpopulated makeshift settlements in Syria are often reliant on unsafe drinking water.

It is estimated that 35 percent of the population relies on sources of drinking water that are not safe. Areas with the largest refugee populations have faced drastically low levels of water.

Many refugees rely on less than 22 liters of water a day, less than one-tenth of what the average citizen of the United States uses.

The World Health Organization has tested and treated 650 unsafe sources of drinking water in 2017 alone. The production of water storage tanks and groundwater wells has provided water to over 200,000 people.

The WHO has developed a disease reporting system that monitors the spread of infectious diseases. Around 1670 sentinel sites have been built across the country. This system allows professionals to rapidly detect and respond to typhoid fever, measles and polio in Syria and in neighboring countries.

The WHO is also supporting the integration of mental health services into health care and community centers in Syria. More than 400 health care facilities have been built and are proving mental health assistance.

The WHO also started the Mental Health Gap Action Programme in northwest Syria in 2017. The program has trained more than 250 Syrian health care workers and mental health professionals.

Displacement in Syria is the direct consequence of the constant violence present in the country since 2011. Due to the unsafe situation in the country, people are moving from their homes in search of a safer environment in the country or abroad. Organizations such as WHO and UNHCR are providing important humanitarian support to those in need.

– Casey Geier

Photo: Flickr

Aleppo Residents
As civil war rages on in Syria, residents of the country’s largest city have been forced to flee to surrounding areas. For former Aleppo residents, these evacuations present a new series of challenges and dangers.

Many of these evacuees have fled to the Syrian countryside, Lebanon, or the Turkish border town of Idlib. Lebanon hosts more than 1 million Syrian refugees, yet most evacuees from Aleppo have been transferred to Idlib, inundating the already war-weary area with traumatized and often severely injured evacuees.

Idlib, which is one of the few remaining rebel-held areas in the country, is likely to become the next target as the regime attempts to recapture the country. Rebel fighters from Aleppo are moving to Idlib along with civilians as the regime recaptures large swaths of the country.

For former Aleppo residents in Idlib, however, simply securing housing has been an immense challenge. Evacuees describe exorbitant rent prices and a cold reception from Idlib residents. For former Aleppo residents who lost most of their belongings in the siege and face unemployment, rent prices that can reach $187 a month are often far out of reach. Some evacuees describe conditions where several families are cramped into one house, and those who still cannot afford rent are forced to move to nearby border camps.

As Aleppo residents settle into Idlib and its surrounding camps, the extent of their trauma is becoming quickly evident. Surgeon Mounir Hakimi described children from Aleppo who face amputation or who have shrapnel lodged in their spines. Some have lost vision from the bombing and doctors in Idlib are seeing many patients with seriously infected wounds. In addition, many are suffering from hypothermia and malnutrition.

Even those who escaped Aleppo without serious injury face psychological trauma. In one case, a three-year-old boy was unable to speak due to the shock of the airstrikes. Idlib has seen serious bombing in the past few years, and as a result, its medical infrastructure is sadly reminiscent of Aleppo’s. Many aid workers who left with Aleppo residents intend to continue their work in Idlib. For groups like the Syrian Defence Force who rescued civilians in Aleppo, Idlib is simply a place to continue their work. One Defence Force member expressed the group’s commitment to the residents of Idlib, pointing out that the city had been bombed for the past five years and was unlikely to see a respite in the near future.

Many see Idlib as the next target for the regime now that Aleppo has been recaptured. Airstrikes have inundated Idlib in recent weeks, and dozens of deaths have been reported in the region. In addition, experts believe that as the regime recaptures more territory, the city will be forced to take in further waves of evacuees. This will further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, and for many former Aleppo residents, the town will provide a continuation of their suffering instead of a much-needed respite.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr