Crisis in Syria: the economic crisis worsens a decade of war

Syria is at the center of a catastrophic mix of economic crisis, conflict and COVID-19 that promises further deterioration in 2022. Here’s what you need to know about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Syrians are living through the worst economic crisis since the start of the war, with record levels of food insecurity and rapidly rising commodity prices. At the same time, water shortages in northern Syria are creating drought-like conditions for millions of people and jeopardizing already compromised health, water and other systems. Violence has decreased since the peak of the conflict but remains a major threat to civilians and civilian infrastructure in frontline areas. And there is a lingering risk of a major military offensive targeting areas beyond government control. Moreover, years of conflict have deprived the population of the resources necessary to withstand additional shocks, including the imminent threat of the expiration of Turkish aid operations.

The humanitarian situation in Syria is fragile…

“The humanitarian situation inside Syria is fragile and has been further aggravated by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the severe economic downturn,” says Khaldoun Al-Amir, IRC Health Technical Advisor for the Middle East. East and North Africa. “The estimated number of people in need of health care has increased in 2021 by around 5% and is expected to increase further in 2022. As a health professional, I hope that the international community will step up its efforts to protect professionals of health and health services.”

Syrians displaced by the conflict endured sub-zero temperatures in makeshift shelters as a series of cold fronts gripped the Middle East in January 2022.

Photo: Fadi Mansour/CRI

Humanitarian risks in 2022

Syria is facing the worst economic crisis since the start of the war, a situation that is likely to worsen in 2022 and increase food insecurity for millions of people.

The crisis is fueled by a series of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic collapse of neighboring Lebanon (also on the watch list this year). The average price of essential foodstuffs increased by 236% between December 2019 and December 2020, while the Syrian pound lost 82% of its value against the dollar as the Lebanese economic crisis worsened between October 2019 and October 2021. The economic situation has contributed to record levels of food insecurity; 60% of the population is now facing food insecurity. As Syrians lack options, they are increasingly forced into negative coping mechanisms, including child labor and child marriage.

Syrians’ access to basic goods and services, from health care to drinking water and food, risks being further compromised.

The war was defined by the systematic targeting of civilian infrastructure, which rendered half the health facilities and half the sewage systems dysfunctional and many more in need of repair. Essential services are further compromised by severe water shortages in northern Syria due to above-average temperatures and a depleted Euphrates River. The water crisis already affects 5 million Syrians. There is not enough water to maintain electricity throughout the region, which compromises health facilities. Lack of safe drinking water increases the risk of illness and the spread of COVID-19. Moreover, prolonged water shortages for agriculture will force Syrians to abandon agricultural land and livestock, destroying their livelihoods and self-sufficiency and exacerbating the hunger crisis.

Video of the major crises the world should watch out for in 2022

The conflict remains intense in frontline areas, with a continuing risk of major escalation if the government attempts to retake areas beyond its control.

Overall conflict activity has declined, with a ceasefire in the northwest since March 2020 and one in the northeast since October 2019. However, airstrikes, shelling and other conflict activity continue steadily, routinely killing civilians, destroying critical infrastructure, and at times forcing the suspension of schooling and other basic services. In addition, the government could launch an offensive in 2022 to retake the territory that remains out of its control. An escalation is particularly likely in Idlib governorate, putting 3 million people at risk. Despite localized agreements, parts of southern Syria have also experienced lower-level conflict and tension since the government regained control of the region in 2018. Localized conflict may continue in these areas, as well as in all areas under government control.

The expiration of the last remaining border crossing for UN aid to Syria in mid-2022 could jeopardize the humanitarian response.

In July 2014, the UN Security Council authorized UN cross-border operations to channel aid from neighboring countries to Syria. Since 2020, the Council has reduced the number of authorized crossings from four to one despite increasing needs, particularly in areas beyond government control, those targeted by cross-border operations. In 2021, 81% of people in non-government controlled areas of the northwest and 69% of the northeast needed help. The final passage expires in July 2022 and there is currently no viable alternative to cross-border aid. Without UN cross-border operations, it will be nearly impossible for humanitarian actors to mount the rapid and large-scale response needed to address new crises in 2022, let alone meet existing needs.

Learn about the top 10 crises the world cannot ignore in 2022, find out how the IRC selected these countries, and download the full Emergency Watchlist 2022 report for data quotes and profiles of the 20 countries in crisis on the IRC list.

How the IRC helps in Syria

Omar, 10, looks at himself in a mirror in a tent.

Ten-year-old Omar’s education has been disrupted by repeated travel and COVID-19 restrictions.

Photo: Abdallah Hammam/IRC

The IRC has worked in Syria since 2012, responding to needs in the northwest and northeast. IRC promotes economic recovery with skills training, apprenticeships and support for small businesses. IRC teams support early childhood development and provide counseling and protection services to women and children, especially victims of violence. We support health facilities and mobile health teams with life-saving trauma services and with primary, reproductive and mental health services. Our response to COVID-19 includes promoting awareness campaigns and training health workers in infection prevention and control. The IRC also supports Syrian refugees in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Learn more about the IRC’s response in Syria.

How you can help in Syria

Syrians displaced by the conflict endured sub-zero temperatures in makeshift shelters as a series of cold fronts gripped the Middle East in January.

It is freezing cold and we need urgent help.

“Because of the snowstorm, the tent my family and I stayed in was completely destroyed and our belongings were damaged,” said Mohannad*, 24, who was displaced with his wife and two children in a camp in northwest Syria. It is freezing cold and we need urgent help.

Donate now to support IRC’s life-changing work in Syria and around the world. We are on the front line delivering essential aid to people affected by crisis in over 40 countries, including places on the 2022 Emergency Watch List.

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