Today, June 30, the European Union and the United Nations host the fourth Brussels Conference, "Supporting the future of Syria and its region." As the tenth year of conflict begins, Action Against Hunger warns that the crisis in Syria and the rest of the region remains critical. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a growing health crisis in the region on top of severe underlying humanitarian needs resulting from a decade of ongoing conflict.
Eighty percent of Syrian citizens lived below the poverty line before the pandemic and, since it began, thousands more have lost their livelihoods. The economic, political, and financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon - where 1.5 million refugees from Syria have been living since 2011 - and increasing inflation in Syria have further exacerbated the situation for Syrians.
"Many Syrians tell us that they are forced to borrow money to cover their basic needs and eat less. During nine years of crisis, they have stretched their livelihoods and services so much that they are on the verge of breaking down, especially in underserved and overburdened communities," says Manuel Sánchez-Montero, Director of Advocacy and Institutional Relations at Action Against Hunger.
"In Lebanon, the current crisis has pushed half the population below the poverty line. Seventy percent of Lebanese and 88 percent of Syrian refugees have lost their jobs and had their wages reduced. The voracious competition for jobs leads to social tensions - 56% of Lebanese people acknowledge that they have perceived an increase in social tension and violence.”
More and more people in Syria are going hungry. About 9.3 million people are food insecure, the highest number ever recorded. Purchasing power is declining and prices for food and other basic goods are soaring. Staple foods are now, on average, more than 200% more expensive than a year ago.
Half of Syria's pre-war population, more than 12 million people, are either displaced within the country or are refugees in the region. It remains uncertain if, how, and when 6.7 million internally displaced persons and 5.5 million refugees in neighboring countries will be able to return home, as employment opportunities are limited and hostilities continue in some areas.
"The cost of nearly a decade of conflict in Syria is immense. Much of the country's infrastructure has been severely damaged or destroyed, including more than half of the public hospitals, one in three schools and large parts of the water supply network," warns Sánchez-Montero. "In Lebanon, on the other hand, due to poverty, two-thirds of the refugees have seen their food portions reduced. More than a third of adults restrict their food consumption so that their children can eat.”
More than 5.5 million people need some form of refugee assistance. It is estimated that nearly 2.5 million children are not in school. More than 15 million people need water, sanitation, and hygiene support.
"Action Against Hunger, along with many other humanitarian organizations and response actors, is trying to ensure continuity of service delivery to people with basic needs, regardless of location. We carry out emergency interventions to save lives and to meet the basic needs of vulnerable people and communities, whether it's through water trucking or rehabilitation of safe water systems," says Chiara Saccardi, Action Against Hunger's desk officer for the Middle East.
At this year’s Brussels Conference to support Syria and the region, funding committed by Member States should enable humanitarian actors to address the immediate effects of COVID-19 and to ensure continuity of programs addressing existing and underlying needs.
"In a protracted crisis, support for resilience and early recovery programming is essential for transition to more dignified, sustainable, and cost-effective aid," warns Sánchez-Montero.
This year's Humanitarian Response Plan is currently only 27% funded. At last year's conference in Brussels, the international community committed a total of $7 billion to support humanitarian, resilience, and development activities in response to the crisis in Syria.
"In a context of global economic downturn, it is critical that the international community maintains and renews these pledges to ensure that those most at risk are not forgotten," Sánchez-Montero says.
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