Hunger and Covid threaten lives in Syria as DEC donations support those most at risk

90 year old Nada in a widows' camp in Idlib, Syria where DEC funds are providing support to older people.

Nada, aged 90, lives in a widows' camp, near Idlib, Syria, where DEC funds are providing health services to older people affected by Covid-19 through Age International’s local partner, SEMA. Photo: Karam Al-Masri/DEC

It’s been over a decade since the start of the war in Syria that has displaced more than half the country’s population. Many of those living in camps lack adequate access to clean water, sanitation and healthcare, leaving them unable to take even the most basic measures to protect themselves from coronavirus.

In Idlib, the number of Covid-19 cases have spiked alarmingly in the last month according to the local administration, though exact numbers are hard to verify due to a lack of testing and official monitoring. 

DEC charities have been providing displaced people with access to washing facilities, hygiene kits and PPE to reduce the risk of transmission. Funds raised from our Coronavirus Appeal are also supporting a specialist Covid-19 hospital in Idlib.

“We’ve stopped counting the waves” 

“We’ve stopped counting the waves,” says Hamza Algabra from Darna, a local partner of a DEC charity in Syria. “There is a big spread of Covid-19 in the camps due to lack of infrastructure. You can barely call them camps - you’re basically talking about scattered tents on agricultural land - people living under tarpaulin sheets. It’s going to take years before every person in Syria, including every displaced person, is vaccinated.”

Only a small percentage of vulnerable people in Syria have had a Covid vaccine, with some frontline health workers and older people still waiting for their first or second dose. Meanwhile the impact of the virus is widespread with reports of recent Covid spikes in northwest Syria and people struggling to earn a living as the country’s economic situation deteriorates.

Healthcare worker Ayham Al-Sabaa analyses a patient's blood sample in the health isolation centre near Idlib in Syria

Healthcare worker Ayham Al-Sabaa analyses a patient's blood sample in the health isolation centre in Jisr Al-Shughour near Idlib, Syria. World Vision, through local partner SEMA, has been providing hygiene kits and health services to vulnerable people with DEC funds. Photo: Karam Al-Masri/DEC

DEC funds protect the most vulnerable 

The easing of lockdown restrictions in recent months has allowed aid agencies to deliver lifesaving support in the country where over 13 million people now depend on humanitarian assistance; 75% of them women and children. As well as delivering water, sanitation, health and hygiene programmes, DEC charities are continuing to raise awareness of the importance of staying safe from the virus, encouraging the uptake of vaccinations and providing psychological support for those most vulnerable. 

Sarah, a mother of three living in a displacement camp, is pregnant with her fourth child. She told us: “Pregnant women were suffering very much…. Now things are much better because of the installation of the latrines – it helps women, people with special needs and the elderly. Now… I do not worry about my children or myself using the toilet at night because these blocks are provided with lighting and the installation of doors that provide privacy and security, especially for women.”

DEC funds are ensuring older people are provided with support and awareness of the dangers of Covid-19 in the widows' camp near Idlib

DEC funds are ensuring older people are provided with hygiene kits, psychosocial support and awareness briefings of the dangers of Covid-19 in the widows' camp in Atma, near Idlib, through Age International’s local partner SEMA. Photo: Karam Al-Masri/DEC

The hunger crisis is worsening

For many Syrian families their most critical need is now access to food. Years of instability, poor rainfall and a devastated economy have impacted food production, increasing cases of hunger and malnutrition. According to UN OCHA, prices of food staples rose by over 200% last year and severe acute malnutrition among children increased by 55% in April 2021.

“Rice, wheat, and basic commodities like sugar and tea now cost three or four times more than before,” says Hamza. ”People’s ability to buy these commodities has also been massively affected because of the devaluation of the currency.”

With DEC charities witnessing an increase in demand for food parcels, they are currently delivering food to families in up to seven governorates in Syria, with some of the most vulnerable being those displaced in unregistered camps. DEC charities are also providing access to water for drinking and farming following spells of drought.

Abu Ahmad tries to clear water from his flooded tent in Al-Hilal camp after heavy rainstorms in January 2021

Abu Ahmad tries to clear water from his flooded tent in Al-Hilal camp after heavy rainstorms in January 2021, while in August this year temperatures soared to 39°C. Photo: Karam Al-Masri/DEC

The crisis is far from over

In the coming months, DEC funds will continue to provide communities with clean water, sanitation facilities, healthcare and hygiene kits through working in camps and with community institutions such as schools and mosques. DEC charities will continue to raise awareness about Covid safe practices and also provide cash assistance to vulnerable families.

The coronavirus pandemic is far from over in Syria. Compared to this time last year, 20% more people depend on humanitarian aid. Please donate to our Coronavirus Appeal to help vulnerable communities in Syria and seven other countries survive the pandemic.


Help people in the world's most fragile places protect themselves from the virus