Freezing weather endangering 800,000 displaced Syrians

BEIRUT: More than 800,000 people face dire conditions, having been displaced in north-western Syria since December due to an ongoing government campaign in the last rebel stronghold in the country, the United Nations said.
“Women and children — who are 81 per cent of the newly-displaced people — are again among those who suffer most,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) added in a report released late on Thursday.
The agency warned that problems for those displaced are exacerbated by the freezing weather. On Tuesday, five people died due to the cold, according to OCHA. “Shelter is the most urgent need, as millions of people have been pushed into small areas not equipped to support that many people,especially during the cold winter,” the report said.
Some 36 per cent of the newly-displaced people are staying in rented houses or with host families, while 17 per cent moved to camps, OCHA said, citing a relief group, The Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster.
It added that a further 12 per cent of those newly displaced are reported to be sheltering in individual tents, while 15 per cent seek cover in unfinished buildings.
“Some 82,000 people are reportedly in open areas, including under trees,” the OCHA report said.
The spike in the numbers of displaced people in north-western Syria triggered warnings from other humanitarian agencies too.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering and many more may die as extreme winter conditions take hold, provoking one of the most severe shelter crises the humanitarian system has faced in the last decade,” said Joseph Ashmore, the Global Shelter Coordinator at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) pledged to continue providing emergency food assistance to people in desperate need in the embattled region, although escalating violence there caused a 24-hour interruption to distribution this week.
“We are deeply concerned about the fate of thousands of families who had to leave their homes in freezing winter temperatures in search for safety in camps that are already overcrowded,” WFP Regional Director for MENA, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, Muhannad Hadi, said in a statement on Friday.
In late April, the Syrian government and allied Russians launched a large-scale campaign to seize the region from rebels.
Russia and Turkey brokered a ceasefire in the region in January. The truce collapsed as the Syrian army and allied forces have made advances in the province.
Meanwhile, a Syrian military helicopter was shot down over the last major rebel bastion in northwest Syria on Friday, killing all crew on board, state media said, in the second such incident this week.
“At approximately 13:40, one of our military helicopters was hit by a hostile missile in the western countryside of Aleppo,” SANA said. — dpa/AFP