Fears are held for newborn babies and children living with their families in open fields and makeshift shelters in Idlib, north-west Syria, as the region braces for what could be the worst winter yet.
After fleeing violence, hundreds of thousands of families in the area now face winter storms and subzero temperatures with little protection.
Camps in the area are overflowing and there is an urgent shortage of winter supplies. Almost 1200 families have had their tents damaged or destroyed in winter storms and 20 displacement camps have been affected by flooding.
Young children have died from the cold in the camps in previous years and the health cluster – which coordinates medical services across NW Syria – is warning of an increased risk of water-borne infectious diseases and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis in camps and makeshift settlements.
Newborns are particularly vulnerable – at night, the temperatures drop below zero and there is little sanitation in the damp and muddy camps. Some children have spent years growing up in these conditions.
Johan Mooij, World Vision’s Syria Response Director, said: “Children in north-west Syria have had to endure a huge amount, but this may be the worst winter yet. With hundreds of thousands of new people displaced, the camps are at breaking point and there is an urgent shortage of tents, blankets and heating fuel. We have to see an end to the violence which is driving this crisis, as well as an increase in humanitarian support.”
Most of the remaining shelters offer little protection from the harsh conditions and families are in desperate need of blankets, mattresses, winter clothes and heaters. Amid a worsening economic crisis in Syria, the price of heating fuel has risen by 20 per cent in the last month.
Marwa*, a 40-year-old widow, fled her home last year due to conflict. She now lives with her 5-year-old son in a tent, where they share a single mattress.
“We want the whole world to see the oppression and sadness we live in, those who have lost their villages and homes,” she said.
“We have a simple wish – to live in safety, without fearing loss, displacement and homelessness.
We do not have the strength to lose more.”
More than 400,000 people have been displaced in Idlib since April this year, when heavy bombardment and fighting resumed in southern Idlib and northern Hama.
At least 60,000 of those have been forced to flee in the last few weeks. Around half the population of 3 million people in Idlib governorate has been displaced at least once by relentless and often indiscriminate conflict.
World Vision is working with partners to distribute winter kits to 7,500 families in 20 camps before Christmas, including blankets, heaters and cash for essentials.
Marwa* will use the winter grant to purchase heating fuel and winter clothing for her son, and will buy him a toy if there’s any leftover.
“I lost a lot… my husband, my home and my memories,” she said. “I now only have my darling son, and all I’m thinking about now winter has arrived is how I can get him winter clothes, a heater and blankets to keep out the cold in this camp.”
Multimedia Content from NW Syria, including photos and b-roll is available.