Following months of under-reported cases and lenient lockdown measures, COVID-19 is hitting Syria’s government-held areas with force. For a country already beset by violence, instability and economic turmoil – a result of the nine-year-long civil war – a resurgence of the virus has already proved calamitous. Learn how we’re supporting some of the hardest-to-reach communities as daily deaths continue to climb…
A brutal reality
Even before the onset of COVID-19, which reached Syria on 22 March 2020, four out of five Syrians were living below the poverty line. According to UNICEF, during the first half of 2020, needs across Syria remained extensive with over 11 million people – 4.7 million children – requiring humanitarian assistance including 6.2 million internally displaced. The pandemic has only exacerbated existing vulnerabilities, particularly hunger – a result of the rapid devaluation of the Syrian Pound (SYP). Some 9.3 million people are now food insecure – the highest level ever recorded in the country.
Now, as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on livelihoods across the Middle East, thousands of Syrians are being forced to return home, with a growing number found in debilitating conditions at the borders. Those who have made it back into the country are faced with an equally brutal reality. The rise in infections has seen some villages forced to resume full lockdown. Businesses that struggled to weather the war are now shutting up shop altogether as families come up against everything from lack of medicine to food shortages. In a cruel blow to what’s left of the healthcare system, COVID-19 patients lie next door to war casualties leaving hospitals overwhelmed.
Dorcas is doing everything we can to reach the most vulnerable in their hour of need. Our emergency response draws upon the various aspects of our original country programme to uphold the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable internally displaced persons (IDPs) and Syrian returnees as they struggle to cope with the resurgent pandemic.
Deliveries to hard-to-reach communities
With the support of your donations and partner Mission East, we are delivering food assistance and hygiene kits to vulnerable families across Aleppo, Homs and Rural Damascus. At the time of writing, we have distributed food parcels and hygiene kits to some 4,600 families in these areas.
Our school feeding programme – run in partnership with Mary’s Meal’s – has been adapted to reach children at home. These deliveries – which contain enough food to feed the entire family – are designed to take the pressure off of parents and caregivers who have seen their main source of income cut off.
Protecting public health – mask making
Facing heavy sanctions and restrictions on movement as well as on their communication with the outside world, many Syrian people lack the information to shield themselves from the virus. We are conducting awareness-raising activities and offering practical advice on how communities can take matters into their own hands.
For example, our team learned that people in Aleppo were not wearing masks as they could not afford them. This prompted us to set up a workshop at the Dorcas Community Centre in Hanano-area where local women learn how to make their own masks before distributing them among shops and primary healthcare institutions in the region. The process involves four steps: the preparation of the material, the making of the masks; using sewing machines, the sterilisation of the masks and lastly, distribution. All involved adhere to strict precautionary measures including physical distancing, handwashing and wearing masks on site. Dorcas is also conducting daily sterilisation of the centre.
So far, the workshop has produced 50,000 masks with more to come as communities face a second wave of imposed lockdown. The initiative not only helps keep communities safe and reduces the mask deficit, it also gives women and girls a purpose and contributes to their household income.
As Syria experiences a sharp rise in daily deaths and infections, we are working hard to scale up our COVID-19 response activities. “The added impact of COVID-19 is accelerating food insecurity to record levels”, says Najla Chahda, Country Director for our Syria programme. “That means we need to move twice as fast to meet growing demand.” To do this, Dorcas is spearheading a number of new project proposals designed not only to address food scarcity and meet basic needs but also address the longer-term impacts of both the virus itself and the restrictions put in place to contain the spread.
“We are in talks with UNOCHA amongst others to begin to tackle the bigger challenges that lie ahead”, Najla continues. “Right now, humanitarian aid is absolutely vital but we also need to look at the cost to human dignity; the fundamental rights that are being abused as a result of strict lockdown.” Our proposals take these aspects into consideration and put forward a compelling argument for the introduction of remote learning and informal education programmes for children and youth as well as psychosocial support services for un-registered returnees. “These are just a few examples of the areas we want to tackle” Najla concludes. “Collaboration – particularly in a difficult operating environment like Syria – is more important than ever.”
Dorcas programmes in Syria are primarily funded by UNOCHA, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Relief Alliance and implemented directly with the support of 16 local partners – many of them churches. Stay up-to-date on our emergency response activities by following us on Facebook or learn more about our regular programme on our dedicated country page.
10 November 2020