12 years into the war in Syria, the number of people needing humanitarian assistance is at a record highPublished: Mar 15, 2023 Reading time: 8 minutes
It has been 12 years since the beginning of the war in Syria, and while violence has decreased in recent years, the war is far from over. The Syrian people have endured immeasurable suffering, with millions displaced from their homes, hundreds of thousands killed, and countless families torn apart. To make matters worse, northwest Syria was struck by a powerful earthquake at the beginning of February. At People in Need (PIN), we immediately launched the SOS Earthquake Syria and Türkiye Emergency Appeal, and we helped tens of thousands of people affected by the devastating impacts of the earthquake. PIN has been working in Syria since 2012, and in this time, we have helped ten million people in acute need.
The war in Syria has devastated the country’s infrastructure and economy, leaving millions without access to basic necessities like food, clean water and medical care. UN OCHA statistics for 2022 show that 15.3 million people needed humanitarian assistance—the highest recorded since 2011.
Despite the challenges, People in Need has been working tirelessly to support people living in northern Syria. “Over the past years, we have provided 1.4 million vulnerable people with assistance each year on average and helped 129,000 people per month on average. Our teams have been on the ground providing emergency needs, food security, agriculture and livelihoods, education and psychosocial support, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, as well as shelter and non-food items,” says Tomas Kocian, PIN’s Regional Director for the Middle East.
Building resilience through sustainable support
In addition to providing immediate relief, we have been working to build more sustainable solutions to support Syrians in the long term. Our livelihoods programmes have provided people with the means to generate income and support themselves.
Many Syrian families rely on humanitarian aid because they have no other choice. However, through a PIN-supported self-help project, Jamila, from northwest Syria, was one of many people who were able to launch their own businesses and make enough money to support their families. The cash grant Jamila received allowed her to start a dairy business; now, she can buy more milk to produce the different varieties of yoghurt and cheese that she sells for profit.
"It is a good feeling to work and secure my family’s needs. It is also nice to have a business and try to develop it. I also feel more confident and able to do business with others. I feel joy when I provide for the needs of my children. I also feel financially independent... The project’s main success is empowering women and encouraging people to rely on their work instead of humanitarian relief," says Jamila.
Enter exhibition about 12 years of war in Syria
Providing educational opportunities to children and adults
As the war in Syria enters its thirteenth year, millions of children in the country are still being forced out of school. By late 2022, only two-thirds of schools were fully functional, and classes were overcrowded. While there were 2.4 million children out of school and 1.6 million at risk of dropping out, tens of thousands of teachers have left the country. Children who are out of school fall prey to child labour, early and forced marriage, and trafficking.
Khalil, 11, is one of the millions of children who are denied an education and exposed to exploitation. “After my father’s death, I had to drop out of school to support my family. I am working now in motorcycle maintenance. I hope I will be able to continue my education one day,” says Khalil.
Throughout 2022, People in Need’s education programmes supported hundreds of thousands of children like Khalil in accessing quality education. PIN’s education and psychosocial activities can offer children a second chance at a happy childhood. In addition to supporting children, we support their parents; for example, Fatima joined our parenting skills sessions, which are designed to help parents and caregivers manage the challenges associated with their children’s trauma.
“Our children were affected a lot by the war,” says Fatima, who was displaced with her family from the countryside near Homs. “My son was in a state of great terror and panic every time he heard the sound of a car or a motorbike, thinking it was a plane. He would cry and worry it would bomb us.”
Clean water and sanitation for all
Nearly half of the people living in northern Syria rely on alternative and often unsafe water sources to complement their daily water needs. Climate change, droughts, and water scarcity have impacted crops and agricultural livelihood. Poor water quality leads to more waterborne diseases, including cholera and diarrhoea.
“With the water scarcity, we started relying on the wells for supply which needs electricity and fuel, and we cannot afford that. The alternative would be buying water which we do not know its source and whether it is clean or not,” says Mohammad, 63, who lives in northern Syria. “Some fill the tanks with water from the river, which is unsuitable for drinking. What choice do we have?”
People in Need has improved access to water for more than 200,000 people in the last year in Syria alone. This success has been achieved through sanitation, waste removal services and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene projects in schools.
Ensuring food security for people in Syria
Food prices have skyrocketed, making it challenging to access nutritionally adequate food. 12 million people are facing acute food insecurity, including 1.8 million people living in camps for internally displaced people. Around 90% of families in the country live in poverty, while more than 50% are food insecure. As the economic crisis worsens, people are resorting to negative coping strategies, which particularly affect female-led households.
“I work as a domestic cleaner to be able to provide for my children; since my husband left, I have been their sole breadwinner. One of my children, 10 years old, works in a pastry factory to support me,” says Hanan* 46, a Syrian woman living in northern Syria. “My children always ask me to buy them or cook them the meals they like. It is hard not to be able to meet their needs,” she adds.
Throughout 2022, People in Need has supported bakeries in north Syria selling subsidised bread and tens of thousands of individuals received food vouchers each month. PIN has provided immediate food and cash assistance to victims of the war and helps rebuild infrastructure and agriculture.
Ahmad, 44, who lives in northern Syria, compares his livelihood situation before and after the war. “Even though I had a simple job with a basic salary, everything was available: fuel, medicines, electricity, drinking water, and education. After the war, our lives turned upside down. Not a day passes without the feeling of hunger.”
Protecting Syrians from harsh weather and providing safe shelters
Harsh winter weather with freezing temperatures and heavy rains has worsened things for people in northern Syria. Around 2 million people are living in camps and informal sites. Due to the increase in fuel prices and despite the health risks, tyres, plastic, old shoes, and animal dung are burned together for warmth. Inhaling the toxic fumes produced by burning such material can lead to respiratory illnesses and even death.
“Before the war, we lived in our house where we had some cows and sheep that provided us with milk and cheese. Everything was available and accessible. Now, we live in tents that are regularly full of mud because of the rain. My children often get sick because of the cold and the lack of heating. All of this has turned winter into a nightmare for us,” says Taha, 54, who lives in northern Syria.
People in Need offers assistance on several levels; the first focuses on immediate assistance to victims of war. This support includes immediate financial aid, food vouchers, and hygiene packs. As part of our immediate aid, we also focus on winterisation, which protects the vulnerable from serious risk; this is especially important for internal refugees living in often inadequately equipped camps.
Long-term support to reconstruct the country
The second level is long-term assistance with the reconstruction of the country. This work consists of supporting agriculture—through money to buy seeds and other supplies. PIN also supports farmers indirectly—through training programs for small farmers; these activities enable sustainable livelihoods for entire families and communities.
Furthermore, PIN helps to stabilise the local economy: finding a job can provide individuals with a stable income to help them get back on their feet. PIN also builds and maintains water and sanitation infrastructure to ensure people can access safe drinking water, which prevents the emergence and spread of disease, thus increasing human self-sufficiency and dignity.
The situation in Syria was compounded at the beginning of 2023 by a powerful and devastating earthquake. The vast majority of people living in the region affected by the earthquake had already been forced to flee their homes at least once. Many are now experiencing additional tragedy as many buildings were poorly constructed and ill-prepared to withstand an event of this magnitude. In northwest Syria, nearly 5000 people have lost their lives, and thousands more were injured; furthermore, more than 11,000 families affected by the earthquake in northwest Syria are now homeless.
Immediately following the earthquake, People in Need launched the SOS Earthquake Syria and Türkiye Emergency Appeal to collect money to fund the first stages of our response, and we were able to raise €4.2 million and support tens of thousands of people affected by the earthquake.
It is vital that we continue supporting efforts towards peace and stability in the region. The Syrian people have suffered for far too long; it is time for the world to unite and support efforts towards a brighter future. At PIN, we hope Syria and its people can begin to rebuild and recover from the scars of war.