Since 2011, over 10 million Syrians have experienced displacement, economic hardship and widespread violence. According to UNHCR RRP (2017), within the country’s own borders, over 6 million people are currently living as internally displaced. While active conflict in some parts of the country have decreased, many families still suffer from the effects of the conflict due to fragile community structures, eroded support networks, and high levels of trauma and psychological suffering.

Similarly, a sustained level of violence continues to contribute towards the world’s largest displacement crisis. Schools, health facilities, markets, places of worship, water networks, power grids and residential areas have all been targets of indiscriminate attacks. OCHA HNO (2018) suggests that the result is an estimated 13.1 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance. Of the 14.6 million in need of WASH support services; 7.6 million are in acute need. Much of this can be directly attributed to the fact that much of Syria’s WASH infrastructure is no longer functional. 

In Bar Elias refugee camp, Norwegian Church Aid supplies water and sanitation facilities together with food items. Phpoto: Margrethe Volden / Norwegian Church AidIn Bar Elias refugee camp, Norwegian Church Aid supplies water and sanitation facilities together with food items. Photo: Margrethe Volden / Norwegian Church Aid

Syria humanitarian response

The mass exodus of Syrians, precipitated by the onslaught of conflict in Syria, has further fueled the international refugee crisis with more displaced people now than at the end of World War II. NCA’s Syria humanitarian response has provided life-saving assistance to displaced Syrians that are ethno-religiously diverse, grappling with multiple deprivations. Our humanitarian response provides relief through WASH, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) prevention, mitigation and response services including medical, legal and psycho-social support.

Presented in the recent HNO Summary 2019 is an illustration of extreme need whereby an estimated 11.7 million people have been identified as needing multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance, as per the end of 2018. While this may identify a reduction since the beginning of 2018, it does not delineate the fact that an estimated 6.2 million people remain displaced in their own nation state; nor does it detract from the over 1.6 million population movements that were recorded throughout the year and which were compounded by the nearly 1.4 million people (primarily IDPs) who reportedly returned spontaneously back to their homes, after an assumed period of displacement.

Kirkens Nødhjelp støtter hygieneundervisning på en skole i Aleppo.Norwegian Church Aid supports hygiene education amongst children and youth in Syria. Here from a school in Aleppo where the students learn why handwashing is important. Photo: GOPA

In response, NCA and partners working in Syria, have been able to contribute towards supporting vulnerable Syrians through WASH and GBV interventions, taking into consideration cultural sensitivities and varied gendered needs.

For WASH, this looks like contributing towards improved access to safe and clean water. In reference to the 2018 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO), 35% of the Syrian population is relying on unsafe drinking water to meet their basic daily needs. This problem exacerbated when families are often spending an estimated 15-20% of their monthly income to secure the needed 57 litres per person per day (lppd). Unlike water infrastructure, sewage networks remain largely intact; however, support is still needed to treat sewage; challenging given that wastewater treatment plants are non-operational due to lacking power and/or damages from the conflict. Finally, the deteriorating hygiene conditions have lessened due primarily to the lack of available water. This is made worse due to the vast overcrowding of small living spaces and a lack of solid waste management systems in place. In response, NCA and relevant partners working in Syria have been able to support through the following:

  • Institutional WASH interventions that support comprehensive and life-saving WASH activities among schools, clinics and GBV centres that have been devastated by the Syrian conflict. This includes rehabilitation of institutional structures as well as WASH related infrastructure(s).
  • Responses targeting WASH in Communities that includes improved clean and safe water sources and its accessibility to communities throughout the Syrian governorates, the provision of sanitation facilities that are secure, sanitary, user friendly and gender-appropriate; and inclusive/participatory involvement in hygiene promotion activities (and distribution of basic hygiene items). Similar to Institutional WASH activities, NCA and partners also provide WASH for Shelters offering support to homeowners in rehabilitating basic WASH related infrastructures otherwise devastated from the conflict.
  • Finally, WASH in Camps offers support in a similar methodology – through the provision of clean and safe water, often through water trucking. Sanitation efforts are done through the rehabilitation of existing sewage systems and construction of gender-segregated latrines and hygiene promotion targeting camp populations with sessions on topics of relevance.

Syrian school children in Damaskus are learning about good hygiene through games and playing. Photo: GOPA.

GBV responses have, over the last year, morphed to address the existing mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) gaps that are often closely linked to conflict-related trauma. As can be imagined, Syrians have been exposed to intense traumatization including the displacement of over 10 million Syrians both inside and out of their home country. In the midst of this devastation, women, girls, boys and men have been subjected to grave human rights violations such as GBV, which has fueled widespread distrust and eroded social cohesion. In these conflict-affected areas, serial rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery, harassment, and torture have been systematically used as weapons of war against women, girls, boys, and men. The mental health (MH) consequences of GBV are severe and long-term, and often include depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidality. Moreover, if left untreated, they may also have severe transgenerational consequences.

NCA and partners inside Syria are working with the intent of enabling women, children and in some cases, men survivors of GBV to overcome their experienced trauma. This is being done by the following:

  • Giving women and children as survivors of GBV safe access to adequate and appropriate support services through interactive events addressing GBV issues and using mobile units so to build awareness of those in more isolated areas. Access to specialized services such as psychotherapy and psychiatric support and/or referrals to such resources continue to also be made available for survivors, as are vocational and life-skills training opportunities.
  • Supporting community leaders, men and boys to promote social cohesion, prevent violence and support the reintegration of GBV survivors through interventions that focus on engaging with community and faith-based leaders, civil society groups and others to raise awareness of these issues while simultaneously improving social cohesion efforts, such as the 16 Days of Activism campaign.

Important documents