Entering the seventh year of the crisis, the scale, severity, and complexity of needs across Syria remain overwhelming. Some 13.1 million people in Syria require humanitarian assistance. Of these, 5.6 million people are in acute need due to a convergence of vulnerabilities resulting from displacement, exposure to hostilities, and limited access to basic goods and services.
Conflict continues to be the principal driver of humanitarian needs, with the civilian population in many parts of the country exposed to significant protection risks which threaten life, dignity and wellbeing on a daily basis.
Against the disruption caused by prolonged hostilities and extensive displacement, access to services as well as livelihood opportunities remain scarce. People’s ability to cope is therefore strained and ultimately inhibits their ability to meet basic needs.
Survival needs among the most vulnerable
Within the overall 13.1 million people in need, and notwithstanding individual vulnerabilities related to age, gender, disability and socioeconomic status, there are 5.6 million facing particularly acute needs. Amongst these, six population groups are deemed most vulnerable due to exposure to risk factors such as besiegement, hostilities, displacement and limited access to basic goods and services.
There are some 2.98 million people living in hard-to-reach areas, including 419,000 in UN-declared besieged areas. This entails a reduction of some 1.9 million people living in hard-to-reach areas over the last year. Although there has been increased access to many areas in the northeast of Syria, the needs of people in UN-declared besieged and hard-to-reach areas continue to be exceptionally severe due to arbitrary restrictions on the freedom of movement of the civilian population; the inability to access basic commodities, services or humanitarian assistance; physical insecurity; and persistent challenges to deliver humanitarian assistance. At the same time, hostilities continued to fuel large-scale displacement in Syria, at an average rate of 6,550 displaced each day. Those people newly displaced as well as some 750,000 people living in last resort sites face particularly acute needs due to a convergence of humanitarian risk factors. Similar levels of exposure to protection risks and challenges in accessing basic services are also faced by overburdened communities, spontaneous returnees and people living in areas with high intensity conflict, with millions across Syria affected.
Civilians in Syria continue to face an ongoing protection crisis. Amid active hostilities in many parts of the country, humanitarian actors remain concerned by the high levels of civilian casualties that continue to be reported and point to violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), including the prohibition on launching indiscriminate attacks and of the principles of proportionality and precaution.
Protection needs of civilians
Civilians continue to be exposed to the effects of explosive hazards in densely populated urban areas, with the Protection sector estimating that up to 8.2 million people are exposed to explosive hazards. Indiscriminate attacks on densely populated areas, resulting in the destruction of civilian infrastructure, particularly affected health facilities, schools, water networks, markets and places of worship, continue. The Syria Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM4Syria) on grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict verified 26 attacks on schools, children and/or teachers/ education, while the Health sector reported up to 107 attacks affecting health workers and facilities in the first half of 2017. Throughout the year, overall vulnerabilities continue to deepen, disproportionately affecting children.
Child recruitment is a particular concern, with 18 per cent of 300 verified cases (of which 289 involved boys) involving children under the age of 15 - with some as young as 12 - many of whom are reported to have engaged in active combat roles. In a context where reliance on humanitarian assistance and the adoption of harmful coping mechanisms remains high, people’s needs are exacerbated by risk factors such as the lack/loss of civil documentation, discrimination and attacks affecting humanitarian personnel, which prevent them from accessing humanitarian assistance.
Livelihoods and essential basic services
Large-scale population movements; the widespread destruction and contamination of agriculture related infrastructure and value chains such as markets and bakeries; depletion of productive assets and savings, increasing debt; and limited economic opportunities have all contributed to socioeconomic hardship and the disruption of livelihoods. This has led to high levels of poverty across Syria, with 69 per cent of the population estimated to be living in extreme poverty. As a result, the coping capacity of many people in the most affected communities in Syria has been nearly exhausted. Households are resorting to harmful coping strategies that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable segments of the population, specifically children, youth and adolescents.
These mechanisms include cutting back food consumption, spending savings and accumulating debt. Such coping mechanisms are not only negative and unsustainable but, once exhausted, prompt people to resort to increasingly exploitative and hazardous activities such as child labor and recruitment, early marriage, and engagement with armed groups. Increased efforts to support the ability of households and communities to withstand current and future shocks are therefore essential.
Photos: OCHA/C. Al Farah - G. Seifo