At least 11,000 children who have been forced to flee their homes because of war are facing a desperate plight this winter after torrential rains hit Syria’s Idlib province, warns Save the Children.*
Heavy rains have led to flash flooding in camps for displaced people. Aid workers on the ground say conditions are miserable and dangerous for the thousands of children living in flimsy tents and half-built buildings with no windows or doors.
Reports of illness are increasing and in the worst-affected areas families are cut off from the outside world, unable to leave camps to access health facilities. Schools have also been closed in some areas. In previous years, young children have frozen to death in the camps – this winter, with 1.5 million people having been displaced in just the last year and shelter, blankets and heating fuel in short supply, the risks are greater.
An increase in violence between armed groups over the last few weeks has delayed emergency relief efforts in some areas, including distributions of tents and blankets to families left without shelter in freezing temperatures.
Conflict throughout Syria has already forced high numbers of people to flee into and within Idlib, in the north-west of the country. Almost half the population of 3 million has been displaced at least once and the province is home to one of the densest concentrations of internally displaced people in the world, with 317 displacement camps and shelters.
Ten year-old Maher (not his real name), who fled fighting further south to a camp in Idlib last year, said: “We sleep on the floor, it’s so cold at night. When the rain came we moved our tents onto higher land and we started a fire but everything got flooded.”
Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, Sonia Khush, said:
“The conditions in the camps and settlements where displaced children are living are miserable, with families suffering through freezing temperatures with only the most basic protection from the elements. Malnourished and young children are particularly vulnerable to disease and illness in this weather.
“At Save the Children-supported health facilities in the area we often see illnesses that flourish in unclean, crowded living conditions such as ear, eye and respiratory infections. Cases of anaemia are also common, due to children and pregnant women not having access to nutritious food.”
A recent increase in violence in Idlib is concerning and has had an immediate impact on the most vulnerable. A demilitarised zone set up by the governments of Turkey and Russia along the frontline in Idlib last year has forestalled a major military offensive, and it is vital that this deal is fully implemented. Any escalation in the conflict will lead to thousands more families being forced to flee – at least 700,000 are expected to be displaced in even a limited offensive.
Sonia Khush continued:
“We urgently need to scale up life-saving support for children and families facing a harsh winter in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria. Children are terrified at the prospect of more violence and displacement. As well as facilitating humanitarian access, all parties to the conflict must work together to reach a negotiated solution to the crisis that spares more than a million children in Idlib from further suffering.”
In neighbouring Lebanon, Syrian refugees have been left stranded in freezing temperatures as the first heavy snowstorm of the year takes hold, with around 50,000 people living in informal settlements that could be affected by flooding. At least 66 informal settlements have been completely flooded as of Wednesday 9th January.
Save the Children’s teams are on the ground in Lebanon assisting families to resist the atrocious conditions. With support from partners, we are providing emergency relief to reinforce the shelters and remove floodwater.
*As of 02/01/19, 4,589 families across 108 displacement camps has been affected by the current floods. The average family size in Syria is 5 people (2 adults and 3 children), therefore at least 11,000 children living in camps could be directly impacted by floods.
For interviews, call Evan Schuurman on 0406 117 937