After 10 years of conflict, the people of Syria remain resilient against crises and hopeful for the future. But the winter ahead may be one of their hardest yet, writes Jeannie Zielinski, GOAL Syria’s Country Director
Across Syria, winter has become a struggle for survival. Humanitarian aid agencies estimate that 4.5 million people are in urgent need of assistance to protect themselves from the bitter cold and the heavy rains that descend upon the country from late December every year.
The situation is deteriorating with few families able to afford basic, winter essentials such as heating fuel, warm clothes, or blankets. As the long-term impacts of Covid-19 and the ongoing economic crisis are felt, these essential items have fallen out of reach for 90 percent of families in Syria over the last year, according to the United Nations’ (UN) 2021 Humanitarian Needs Overview report. Families affected by displacement and conflict are being hit the hardest.
Seasonal Flooding in Camps
In Northwest Syria, where GOAL has been implementing humanitarian aid programmes since 2013, more than 2 million people are in urgent need of assistance to help cope with falling temperatures. A further 900,000 need support to protect their shelter against the impact of seasonal floods this winter.
In Tawhid Camp, Idleb Province, GOAL is currently rehabilitating roads to prevent them from sinking under the heavy rains. GOAL teams are also elevating tents from the ground to protect them from being washed away. Last year, flooding irreparably damaged the shelters and belongings of more than a hundred families at the camp.
Abu Khaled (pictured above), one of the displaced people who reside in Tawhid, says it took him two hours to reach his elderly parents’ nearby tent due to flooding that blocked the camp’s roads. When he finally made it across the water, there was barely enough time to carry his 92-year-old mother and 87-year-old father to safety. Their belongings were left to the mercy of the flood.
Communities who live outside of camp settings in Idleb and Northern Aleppo are not faring much better.
Protection from the Elements
Um Bashar, a lifelong resident of Idleb, lives in a small, mountainous village in the region’s countryside. The 56-year-old mother of 10 has been the primary breadwinner in her family for the last 20 years, striving to provide for children by picking olives. Although her sons have reached working age, income opportunities are getting fewer every day, and wages lower still.
“Our region here is mountainous and cold, and jobs are almost non-existent. Usually, at the beginning of each winter, we go to the wild to collect twigs, and everything that can be burned… including plastic packaging. What are we going to do? Winter is cold, especially here, and we have young children. Winter has become for us a huge concern because of the high cost of firewood and all the heating materials,” she says.
Um Bashar is among 106,000 vulnerable people in Northwest Syria that GOAL is supporting this winter to help families access vital relief items in preparation for the coldest days of the year. GOAL teams are working in 89 locations in Idleb and Northern Aleppo, striving to make camps more habitable and helping to protect tents from the elements. GOAL teams are also providing financial assistance to internally displaced people and vulnerable members of host communities to help them access warm clothing, blankets, and fuel for heating.
Despite the best efforts of GOAL and other humanitarian aid agencies, more than 1.5 million people in Northwest Syria will be left without any assistance to meet their winter needs if current levels of funding are not increased. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only 23 percent of the funds required to reach the 2.2 million people in need in Northwest Syria have been provided.
Solidarity to Help Maintain Hope
“Our whole land is gone. My children have been forced to flee abroad. I do not know if I will see them again,” says Um Hasan, a 70-year-old grandmother receiving support from GOAL in Northwest Syria. “Being close to my husband and children used to keep us warm during winter, but now it’s cold in their absence,” she continues.
Resilience has been the main resource available to the people of Syria through years of destruction and displacement. While humanitarian assistance will not end the war in Syria, support and solidarity can help maintain hope.
After 10 years of conflict and suffering, Um Hasan still feels hopeful for the future: “We have suffered a lot, but we must be patient, for patience is all we have. GOAL’s support has helped give us hope. It will become warmer again when we are finally reunited with our children.”
Um Hasan is among the millions of people enduring hardship far from home this winter. With your support, GOAL teams are delivering hope to Um Hasan and thousands of families like hers.