Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
A decade into the crisis, factors driving humanitarian needs among Syria’s population have multiplied. The March 2020 Idleb ceasefire agreement led to a reduction in hostilities and large-scale displacement compared to the peak of the crisis. However, during the second half of 2021 hostilities have re-intensified along front lines in northern and southern Syria, triggering new displacements and destruction as well as continued violations of IHL and IHRL. At the same time, the long-standing needs of an estimated 6.9 million IDPs remain staggering, particularly for the over two million people in 1,760 informal settlements and planned camps, often hosted in inadequate shelters and limited access to basic services. Further, the needs of overstretched host communities and those who have returned to their – often destroyed – places of origin continue to face inadequate living standards.
Throughout 2021, the macroeconomic context has continued to deteriorate sharply. The combined effects of currency depreciation, soaring prices, reduced fiscal spending, widespread job loss and unilateral coercive measures have plunged additional segments of the population into humanitarian need, notably in areas historically less affected by hostilities and displacement. People’s ability to meet basic needs and access basic services has decreased further. Assessment data from August 2021, for example, indicates that the income gap has intensified across the country, with average household expenditure now exceeding available income by 50 per cent compared to 20 per cent in August 2020. As a result, families have taken on more debt and they increasingly resort to harmful coping mechanisms. These include child labour, child marriage and the sale of productive household assets. Food insecurity has grown; Syria ranked among the 10 most food insecure countries globally by mid-2021, with an estimated 12.8 million people considered food insecure.
Basic service delivery across Syria continues to be vastly inadequate and hampered by damaged infrastructure, lack of critical supplies and, increasingly, financial unaffordability. One of the most pressing concerns is the scarcity of technical staff required to deliver and maintain basic services, due to displacement, death and/or impairment, and the lack of technical training. By way of example, in almost half of all sub-districts in Syria, the number of health-care workers (doctors, nurses and midwives) is less than 11 per 10,000 people. This is catastrophically below emergency standards of at least 22 per 10,000 people. With just 2 per cent of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the country recording its highest weekly case numbers as of late October, the pandemic continues to overburden the fragile health system.
In 2021, climatic shocks affecting natural resources, particularly water, have intensified and exacerbated humanitarian impact. In north and north-east Syria in particular, insufficient rainfall combined with historically low water levels in the Euphrates River have not only reduced access to water for drinking and domestic use for over 5 million people, but also triggered substantial harvest and income losses, an increase in waterborne diseases and additional protection risks. In the medium to long term, these developments are expected to worsen high food insecurity and malnutrition rates in the region.
Humanitarian access in Syria continues to be challenged by geopolitical dynamics, periodic border-crossing closures and COVID-19 measures. The number of border-crossing points authorized by the UN Security Council for UN-delivered assistance and supplies remains limited to one (Bab al Hawa at the Turkish border), which is a reduction from four in 2019.
Projected situation in 2022 and beyond
Downward trends are expected across all major need drivers in 2022. New or recurrent displacements across the country are likely to remain similar to those recorded in 2021 – an estimated 800,000 IDPs and 250,000 IDP return movements are expected in 2022. However, needs for humanitarian assistance to populations residing along or moving away from front lines are expected to increase. In a context where 90 per cent of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line, the socioeconomic deterioration is expected to trigger further increases in extreme poverty, and to aggravate already alarming food insecurity and malnutrition rates and protection concerns.
Basic service delivery will remain inadequate, albeit with significant geographic variations, and hampered by the lack of infrastructure, investment, human resources and, increasingly an unreliable electricity supply. If political agreements sustaining the functionality of critical water stations serving these areas are not found, regular access to safe water through public networks will remain a particular challenge for over 500,000 people in north-eastern Al-Hasakeh Governorate, as well as for an estimated 184,000 people in Al-Bab subdistrict in Aleppo Governorate. With COVID-19 vaccination coverage expected to grow slowly throughout 2022 and continued poor adherence to preventive measures, the population – particularly health-care professionals and front-line workers – will remain at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19, and health services will continue to be disrupted.
Response priorities in 2022
The humanitarian response in Syria – reaching 6.7 million people on average each month in 2021 – is estimated to have prevented a more pronounced deterioration in humanitarian indicators and served as a vital lifeline for millions of people. However, the response currently remains insufficient to stem or revert the downward trends described here. This is partly due to historic underfunding of the 2021 HRP – funded at only 44 per cent of total requirements as of 20th November 2021 – which is expected to have contributed to a slight decrease in the number of people reached each month (6.7 million in the first half of 2021 compared to 7.4 million in the same period in 2020).
At the same time, needs related to basic service delivery, livelihoods and income generation have grown consistently across all population groups, as has the need for durable solutions for IDPs and returnees specifically. These needs require a more comprehensive, longer-term response, including through non-humanitarian instruments.
Adjusting to this reality, humanitarian planning for Syria will shift towards a two-year HRP, covering 2022 and 2023. While the three HRP Strategic Objectives (SOs) will remain the same (save lives, protect people, and improve access to livelihoods and basic services), a two-year humanitarian planning horizon for Syria is expected to enable a more strategic expansion of resilience and early recovery-oriented programming under SO 3 in particular, and strengthen advocacy for multi-year funding/commitments. In 2022, out of an estimated 14 million people in Syria who require humanitarian assistance, the UN and humanitarian partners aim to assist an estimated 12 million people, at an approximate cost of US$4.2 billion.
- Estimate – the 2022 HNO process, including intersector PiN estimation, was ongoing at the time of publication
- Estimate – the 2022-2023 HRP process, including intersector target estimation, was ongoing at the time of publication.
- Estimate – the 2022-2023 HRP process, including cost estimation, was ongoing at the time of publication. The figure presents estimated costs for the first year (2022) of a multi-year Syria HRP for 2022 and 2023.