The Socio-political Situation
Anti-Government protests in Syria broke out in the southern province of Dar’a in March 2011. Since then, demonstrations and unrest have spread to most cities in Syria, and an extensive armed element to the opposition has emerged. The Government’s initial response to the protests, unrest and armed insurgency was a mix of force and political concessions, including the repeal of the country’s emergency laws, approving laws permitting new political parties, and liberalizing local and national elections. The crackdown on unarmed protestors developed into a larger-scale armed insurrection including, in some places, localized armed conflict. A joint UN-Arab League peace initiative with Security Council backing did not stop the violence despite a ceasefire agreement in April. A UN-mandated six-point ceasefire and peace plan supported by the UN supervision mission is being pursued as the main mechanism to lead parties to a transition phase.
Syria’s population is estimated at 20.8 million people, 35 per cent of whom are under age 15. Sunni Muslims account for the majority (74 per cent), while other Muslims (Alawite, Druze) represent 16 per cent. The remaining 10 per cent are Christians. Life expectancy is estimated at 75.9 years. Before the crisis, 86 per cent of the population had access to improved drinking water and 96 per cent to improved sanitation. The literacy rate among the population is 84.2 per cent. Syria ranks 119 out of 187 on the Human Development Index, well below the average of the Arab States. Prior to the crisis, 30 per cent of the population was already living on US$2 or less per day. Months of crisis and international sanctions have also taken their toll, driving inflation and devaluation.
The Humanitarian Situation
At least 1.5 million people urgently need humanitarian assistance, but this number is likely to increase significantly. Families fleeing violence have placed an additional strain on the limited resources of host communities. In towns and cities affected by fighting, access to medical assistance and food are the most pressing needs. Other priorities include shelter, non-food items, water and sanitation, and education.
The deteriorating security situation is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and deepening poverty in urban and rural areas. In addition, the economic crisis has affected poor farming and herding communities in the east and north-east, as well as migrant labourers in other parts of the country. Large numbers of rural people have been unable to farm or market their products due to the crisis, and hundreds of female-headed households have lost their only source of income. Projected wheat crop shortages and food security assessments indicate that a significant number of people will remain in need of food assistance.
Syria hosts over 1.5 million refugees, one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world. Half a million of these people are Palestinian and 88,000 are from Iraq. These communities are also facing increasing difficulties. UNRWA has reported a significant number of displaced Palestine refugees. Outside Syria, the number of Syrians who have registered with UNHCR and host Governments in neighbouring countries has grown to over 105,000.
The main response challenges include insecurity, lack of access to people in need and limited capacity of partners.
The Humanitarian Strategy & Response
UN agencies have adapted programme activities to respond to new humanitarian needs. In March, IASC principals agreed to increase the capacity of the UN County Team (UNCT) by appointing a Regional Humanitarian Coordinator (RHC) and designating Humanitarian Coordinators in Jordan and Lebanon. Following a Government-led humanitarian needs assessment in March, the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan has been revised, resulting in an agreement between the Government and the UN on the scale of the needs and priority sectors. UN agencies seek $180 million for 44 projects to address the needs inside Syria in sectors including protection, education, food, health, livelihoods, non-food items, shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, logistics, emergency telecommunications, staff safety services and coordination.
Despite a challenging operating environment—and following an agreement with the Government of Syria—the UNCT, working with Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is scaling up humanitarian assistance. In June, food assistance was provided to over 500,000 people, but this number is expected to increase to 850,000 in July. Essential non-food items have been provided to 135,000 people. The vaccination of 280,000 children was completed in May, and more than 15,000 children received remedial education and psychosocial support. Emergency health kits have been distributed to affected areas, with a capacity to assist 100,000 people. Mobile clinics will be in place to support a further 160,000 people.
The UN in Syria is expanding its field presence. It has offices in Damascus, Al Hassekeh, Aleppo, Ar Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor, Lattakia and Tartous. More offices are planned. Security constraints may not allow for a full-time presence in all locations, but mobile teams aim to reach more people, monitor delivery and conduct rapid assessments whenever access is temporarily available.
OCHA has supported the RHC in negotiating an agreement that allows the eight international NGOs present in the country to expand their operations: International Medical Corps (IMC), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), HELP (Germany), Premiere Urgence (PU), Against Hunger (Spain), IECD (Italy), Islamic Relief (France) and Terre des Hommes (Italy).
The Government will also allow more local NGOs and community-based organizations to work with UN agencies. Over 1,000 national NGOs, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and charities are registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. OCHA is supporting the process and strengthening their capacity.
The UNCT considers the most likely short-term situation to be continued fighting in areas of the country, with very limited humanitarian access and grave protection concerns.
Access restrictions and security, partnership and other challenges will continue to impede the delivery of life-saving assistance. The medium- to long-term impact of the crisis, compounded by international sanctions, will further constrict the Syrian economy. The limited capacity of national authorities to replenish stocks and deliver services will be further reduced. The following are the key humanitarian implications:
Increasing numbers of civilian deaths and injuries (particularly during military operations).
Widespread human rights concerns, including arbitrary detentions and torture, restricted freedom of movement, and impeded access to medical care, food and other basic services (telecommunications, electricity and water).
Lack of, or limited access to, basic needs and services (food, water, health care, electricity and telecommunications) in the most affected areas such as Homs, Idleb and Dar’a during ongoing military operations (sieges, curfews).
Deteriorating socioeconomic conditions and increased vulnerability among poor communities mainly due to limited local market capacity, sanctions and disruption of in-country trade.
A deterioration of the situation of Palestine and Iraqi refugees hosted in Syrian neighbourhoods and affected communities.
 Human Development Report, 2011
 Human Development Report, 2011