Syria Complex Emergency - Fact Sheet #4

Speeches Shim

January 22, 2015

Humanitarian organizations respond to impacts of severe winter weather in Syria and neighboring countries.

UN Security Council unanimously adopts resolution renewing the mandate to conduct UN cross-border and cross-line humanitarian assistance.

In 2014, Syrians surpass Afghans as the largest refugee population covered under the global mandate of UNHCR.

Numbers At A Glance

12.2 million

People in Need of Humanitarian Assistance in Syria

7.6 million

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Syria

5 million

People Reached per Month by USG Assistance in Syria

3.8 million

Syrian Refugees in Neighboring Countries

1.6 million

Syrian Refugees in Turkey

1.2 million

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon


Syrian Refugees in Jordan


Syrian Refugees in Iraq


Syrian Refugees in Egypt

Humanitarian Funding

To Syria Humanitarian Response
FY 2012 - FY 2015

USAID/OFDA $570,037,037
USAID/FFP $1,104,580,890
State/PRM $1,371,725,086
TOTAL $3,046,343,013

Winter storm “Huda” brought snow, heavy rainfall, and strong winds to Syria and neighboring countries during the week of January 5. Overall numbers of affected people—in particular IDPs living in camps and informal settlements—remain unconfirmed; however, relief organizations believe that damage from the storm is most likely lower than initial estimates indicated. In advance of the storm, UNHCR field offices throughout Syria collaborated with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to develop emergency plans to receive any IDPs forced to relocate again due to severe weather conditions.

The UN and partners launched a winterization plan in October 2014, which targets 3.3 million people inside Syria. Since October, UN agencies, SARC, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have distributed seasonally appropriate relief items—including blankets, warm clothing, heating fuel, winterization kits, and cash assistance—to affected populations across Syria. According to the UN, the winter plan, which seeks $206 million, remains underfunded by $70 million as of January 14. Syrian Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Yacoub El Hillo announced on January 15 that the Syria Emergency Response Fund will allocate $4 million to support the winter efforts.

The 2015 Syria Strategic Response Plan (SRP)—launched December 18 and drafted by UN agencies and NGOs with donor input and Syrian Arab Republic Government (SARG) approval—requests $2.9 billion to reach 12.2 million people inside Syria with humanitarian assistance in 2015. The SRP is divided into five objectives: protection of and access to affected populations; delivering emergency life-saving and life-sustaining assistance; strengthening the resilience of affected communities and institutions; ensuring harmonized coordination mechanisms; and enhancing the capacity of humanitarian workers, particularly Syrian partners and communities assisting vulnerable people in need. The SRP estimates that humanitarian needs have increased by more than 30 percent in 2014, with emergency shelter and relief commodities, food security and agriculture, and health care assistance requiring the majority of funding under the 2015 plan.

On January 15, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura urged support for a freeze to heavy fighting in the city of Aleppo. The UN is working with the SARG and opposition forces to negotiate the freeze, which aims to reduce violence and possibly halt military activities to enable delivery of humanitarian aid. SARG forces have conducted repeated airstrikes over Aleppo during the previous two years and have sought to lay siege to the city. However, the UN reported in recent weeks that opposition forces reversed SARG gains, re-taking Handarat village near Aleppo and reducing the likelihood of SARG forces advancing to Castello Road—the last remaining access route reaching an estimated 200,000–300,000 civilians in eastern opposition-controlled areas of the city.

Media and relief organizations report that the Government of Turkey (GoT) recently tightened restrictions governing border crossings between Syria and Turkey, including requirements that those persons entering Turkey from Syria have a valid passport or travel documents. Previously, Syrian refugees were exempt from normal visa regulations given the scale of conflict and the number of persons fleeing to Turkey. Turkey’s increasingly strict border crossing requirements follow similar entry requirements and new visa regulations recently enacted by Jordan and Lebanon.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that ongoing hostilities in and near the besieged Yarmouk neighborhood of the city of Damascus forced the organization to abort planned delivery of humanitarian assistance on multiple occasions in December. Approximately 400 daily food parcels are required to meet the minimum needs of the approximately 18,000 civilians trapped in the camp, but UNRWA has not been permitted to deliver sufficient and regular aid since the siege began. As of January 22, UNRWA distribution teams have distributed a total of 636 food parcels since the beginning of December.

Armed opposition forces took control of two key SARG military bases in Idlib Governorate in mid-December. According to the UN, the seizure of the bases—which were a major source of shelling on surrounding civilian areas—has prompted an unconfirmed number of displaced persons originating from these areas to return to the governorate. In addition, the departure of SARG forces from the bases has reportedly opened up large stretches of the highway into Idlib and improved humanitarian access.

Despite continued access constraints in many areas, the UN and implementing partners continue to deliver assistance where possible. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that, as of January 10, UN agencies and implementing partners had reached nearly 1.6 million people with food, medical supplies, relief items, and water and sanitation support via cross-border operations since the July adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2165. On December 17, members of the UN Security Council unanimously adopted UNSCR 2191, which renews the mandate of UNSCR 2165 enabling UN cross-border and cross-line humanitarian access to assist people in Syria. UNSCR 2191 is active until January 10, 2016.

USAID/FFP partner the UN World Food Program (WFP) continues to target more than 4 million people throughout Syria per month, but notes that insecurity continues to hinder food deliveries in some areas, particularly in Dayr az Zawr and Ar Raqqah governorates, where ongoing conflict has interrupted road access to the entirety of both governorates since May and June 2014, respectively. In December, WFP reached 3.7 million people inside Syria. USAID/FFP remains the largest donor to WFP’s operations inside Syria, contributing more than $415 million to date.

In mid-December, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released the results of a Rapid Nutrition Assessment examining the nutritional status of displaced children under the age of five living in collective shelters and host communities in Syria. The assessment—carried out between March and July 2014 in 13 of Syria’s 14 governorates and the first large-scale assessment of its type completed since the start of the Syrian crisis—does not indicate that Syrian children face emergency levels of global acute malnutrition (GAM), but does detail the serious prevalence of GAM in three governorates, with a poor overall nutrition situation, as classified by the UN World Health Organization (WHO). The overall GAM level was 7.2 percent among children assessed; however, the GAM level among assessed children in Aleppo, Dayr az Zawr, and Hamah governorates exceeded 10 percent—a rise from the pre-crisis 2009 WHO–SARG Ministry of Health Family Health Survey documenting a GAM level of 9.3 percent. The overall prevalence of severe acute malnutrition was 2.3 percent, indicating a poor nutrition situation. The study also found that approximately 29 percent of families reported that they did not have enough food for all family members during the week prior to the assessment; of these families, 70 percent said that they had reduced the number of meals consumed.

In total since April 2013, WFP has reached 220,000 children through its supplemental feeding program, and in 2014 alone reached 81,000 students in Aleppo, Rif Damascus, and Tartus governorates with school feeding. In July 2014, WFP launched a voucher pilot program for pregnant and lactating women in Homs and Lattakia governorates. However, an estimated 3.9 million women and children require preventive and curative nutrition services, according to the UN.

SARG forces conducted airstrikes on December 16 that struck a hospital in the city of Mayadin in Dayr az Zawr, resulting in 12 deaths and injuries to civilians, patients, and medical staff. The same day, SARG airstrikes also hit a hospital in the town of Kafr Nabl in Idlib, resulting in 13 deaths and the complete destruction of the hospital, which served approximately 30,000 people in rural Idlib.

WHO announced on December 22 that the SARG approved the organization’s delivery of medicine and surgical supplies to opposition-held eastern Aleppo Governorate and the hard-to-reach areas of Rif Damascus Governorate’s Eastern Ghouta Region and the town of Moadamiyah in Western Ghouta Region.

With assistance from USAID/OFDA, WHO provided pharmaceuticals—including 300,000 influenza vaccines, as well as antibiotics and antipyretics for rapid response to severe acute respiratory infections (SARI)—ahead of the winter season, along with trainings on SARI and influenza management. USAID/OFDA is also supporting WHO to procure generators for hospitals in Aleppo, Homs, and Latakia governorates.

Despite challenges related to access and the capacity of implementing partners, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), with USAID/OFDA support, continues to provide reproductive health services to women across Syria. During December, approximately 18,000 women received reproductive health services and information, including emergency obstetric care, reproductive health vouchers, and family planning services. UNFPA also delivered reproductive health tools and supplies to rural areas of Aleppo Governorate and to the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) maternal hospital in Aleppo, which will enable an estimated 15,800 people to receive higher quality reproductive health services, including safe deliveries. In addition, UNFPA provided 240 reproductive health kits to the SARG Ministry of Health, MoHE, SARC, and the Syria Family Planning Association, which can help meet the needs of more than 475,000 women throughout the country.

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, as of January 21, Syria has not reported any cases of polio in a year. A countrywide mass immunization campaign brought the polio outbreak under control, following 36 cases of wild poliovirus type 1 detected since late 2013.

In December, nearly 1.7 million people in Aleppo Governorate and approximately 125,000 people in Idlib experienced water and electricity cuts, OCHA reported. In response, SARC transported 40,000 liters of diesel to Aleppo’s main water station, facilitating the temporary delivery of water to some areas of the city of Aleppo. USAID/OFDA partners are responding with water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) assistance in both governorates. The humanitarian community is also assessing sustainable options to repair and reconstruct water supply infrastructure in affected areas. Since September, water supply systems in Aleppo, Idlib, and Rif Damascus, as well as in Damascus, have experienced shortages or intentional targeting by armed groups. OCHA reports that the water supply in Syria has decreased to less than 50 percent of its pre-crisis levels due to conflict, a lack of repairs to damaged infrastructure, and low levels of rainfall in 2014

In Syria, UNICEF has provided seasonally appropriate clothing for approximately 315,000 children, as well as 95,000 blankets—cumulatively worth more than $14 million—since it began distributing winter support items in late 2014. In response to damage caused by the early January winter storm, UNICEF—along with UNHCR, SARC, and the governor’s office—has begun providing 300 tents and emergency relief commodities, such as hygiene kits, to affected populations in Idlib. In Al Hasakah Governorate’s Newroz IDP and refugee camp, UNICEF distributed winter clothes to 3,000 children prior to the snowstorm. UNICEF is locally procuring supplies for conflict-affected populations in Ar Raqqah and Dayr az Zawr and has pre-positioned stocks for 20,000 families—including seasonally appropriate clothing for 25,000 children— with SARC in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, and Tartus. UNICEF has distributed blankets to a further 35,000 families, and nearly 4,900 children’s winter kits are being distributed all in hard-to-reach areas in northern and southern Syria.

UNICEF reported that nearly 70 attacks took place on schools across Syria between January and December 2014, killing and wounding hundreds of children. According to UNICEF, the real number of affected children is likely higher, with indications that some attacks may have been deliberate.


The Italian Coast Guard recently intercepted two cargo ships in the Mediterranean Sea abandoned by their crews and carrying hundreds of Syrian refugees. On December 31, the Italian Coast Guard recovered a vessel carrying approximately 800 refugees, most of them Syrian, that had reportedly launched from Tartus. The second vessel, discovered by the Italian Coast Guard on January 2, launched from Turkey and carried approximately 360 Syrian refugees, including more than 60 children. The incidents highlight a new strategy by human traffickers to promise refugees transfer to Europe before deliberately abandoning them at sea, and may also indicate a new trend of Syrian refugees departing from Syria by sea as land borders become increasingly difficult to cross.

In 2014, Syrians surpassed Afghans as the largest refugee population covered under the global mandate of UNHCR, representing 23 percent of its caseload, according to a report published on January 7. UNHCR notes that the Syrian refugee population is now second only to Palestinian refugees in total refugees registered. The report reflects the rapidly deteriorating situation within Syria, as two years ago Syria did not rank among UNHCR’s top 30 refugee source countries.

During 2014, USAID/FFP partner WFP reached an increasing number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, from 1.4 million people in January to 1.9 million people in December. WFP assists refugees primarily through electronic vouchers, providing refugee households with dignity and choice. In addition, WFP’s voucher program injects cash into local economies, helping host communities bear the burden of the refugee influx; in 2014, WFP’s program contributed an estimated total of $621 million to the local economies of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, and more than $1 billion in total since the start of the voucher program. USAID/FFP remains the largest donor to WFP’s operations assisting Syrian refugees, contributing nearly $520 million to date.


Since late September 2014, more than 26,000 Syrian refugees have fled Ayn al-Arab—known as Kobani in Kurdish—and surrounding areas in northern Syria and arrived to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, according to UNHCR. The total number of arrivals has surpassed UNHCR’s 2014 contingency planning figures of 25,000 new Syrian arrivals in Iraq and represents half the organization’s 2015 contingency planning number for 50,000 refugees. The four refugee camps in Iraq’s Erbil Governorate are now at capacity, and UNHCR and Kurdish Regional Government authorities are planning to construct a fifth refugee camp south of the city of Erbil. UNHCR is now sending new arrivals from Syria to Gawilan camp in Dohuk Governorate.

State/PRM partner UNHCR reported that its local partners distributed assistance within Al Obaidi Syrian refugee camp in Iraq’s Al Anbar Governorate in late December. A UNHCR local partner treated more than 150 patients for acute and chronic health conditions while regularly referring individuals to secondary health care facilities. In addition, another local partner distributed 100 liters of heating fuel to each refugee household in the camp. UNHCR and other UN agencies have remotely monitored Al Obaidi camp since the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant advanced into the surrounding area of Al Qaim in June 2014.


On January 14, UNHCR and the NGO International Relief and Development released a report on conditions for Syrian refugees living outside of camps in Jordan. Based on data collected from home visits with nearly 150,000 refugees conducted between January and June 2014, the study—which serves as a follow up to a report issued in March 2014— found that two-thirds of refugees across Jordan are now living below the national poverty line and one in six refugee households is in abject poverty, living on less than $40 per person per month. Nearly half of the households visited had no heating, one quarter had unreliable electricity, and 20 percent lacked functioning sanitation facilities. Rented accommodations accounted for more than half of household expenditures, with many families forced to share lodgings with others to reduce costs.

As part of its winter response in Jordan, State/PRM partner UNHCR and local NGOs continue to provide emergency support to Syrian refugees in camps and urban areas, including warm clothing and winter cash assistance to 31,000 vulnerable refugee households—nearly 146,000 people—and nearly 80,000 blankets since winterization efforts began in mid-November. Refugees of other nationalities and vulnerable Jordanians also benefitted from distributions. During the recent winter storm, UNHCR maintained a hotline for refugees and deployed 60 staff across Jordan to monitor conditions. In addition, UNHCR provided more than 50,000 blankets and nearly 2,000 heaters to vulnerable people in Azraq refugee camp and distributed more than 120,000 vouchers for seasonally appropriate relief items to Za’atri refugee camp residents. After the storm subsided, UNHCR worked with implementing partners to clear water from flooded areas of Za’atri camp, repair damaged shelters in Azraq camp, and continue distribution of relief commodities.

State/PRM partner UNICEF launched a new winter assistance program in Azraq and Za’atri refugee camps in Jordan on January 6. In partnership with WFP, UNICEF is uploading cash assistance—in the amount of 14 Jordanian dinars, or approximately $20, for every child under the age of 14—to WFP-provided electronic voucher debit cards, which refugee households use to purchase food at supermarkets in both camps. The assistance will allow families to purchase winter clothes for an estimated 41,000 children at the supermarkets. UNICEF is the first UN agency in Jordan to upload nonfood assistance through the WFP electronic vouchers.


Bekaa Valley and other high-altitude regions remain the most affected by extreme winter temperatures in Lebanon and, as more displaced Syrians deplete their savings and are forced to move from rented accommodation into tents in informal settlements, many people in those areas are struggling to cope, UNICEF reports. In response to the recent winter storm, UNICEF provided 5,000 blankets to 2,500 households and high-energy biscuits to 3,200 children through the Government of Lebanon Ministry of Public Health, the Lebanese NGO Beyond Association, and the 25 UNICEF-funded mobile medical units in 650 informal settlements. Using UNICEF pre-positioned supplies, the mobile medical units also treated 1,600 patients suffering from flu, fever, and skin diseases related to cold temperatures. Between November and January, winter interventions provided by UNICEF—a State/PRM partner—reached more than 204,000 Syrian and Palestinian refugee children, in addition to vulnerable Lebanese children. Approximately 80,000 children living in high-altitude tented settlements received winter kits, representing approximately 70 percent of Syrian refugee children in informal settlements across the country.

In preparation for the early January winter storm, UNHCR—with assistance from State/PRM—reinforced its contingency stocks of blankets, fuel, wood, and shelter materials, with interagency teams on standby for emergency deliveries and responses. Winter support to Syrian refugees in Lebanon began in October, with UNHCR providing a combination of cash grants, stoves, and fuel vouchers to refugees living at higher altitudes, as well as shelter-sealing kits to refugees residing in insecure dwellings. Through cash support, UNHCR is reaching more than 80,000 families, or 400,000 people. Additionally, UNICEF has provided winter clothes to 40,000 refugees in Lebanon, with ongoing distributions expected to reach as many as 160,000 additional people.

Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam and UN Deputy-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson launched the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan on December 15 in Beirut. UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ross Mountain noted that the UN is satisfied with the final product, which appeals for more than $2.1 billion to assist 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon and 1.5 million vulnerable Lebanese.

Lebanon’s Minister of Education (MoE) noted in a January 15 press conference that the Government of Lebanon Ministry of Education (MoE) is preparing an action plan to ensure that all children, including Syrian refugees, in Lebanon receive an education. The Minister confirmed that the MoE has begun transferring funds to public schools serving Syrian refugees to subsidize the cost of their education.


In early January, GoT authorities in Ankara tore down makeshift shelters housing more than 300 Syrian refugees, according to media. Across Turkey, authorities have sent approximately 3,000 refugees to a specially built camp in Gaziantep, reportedly as part of an operation to send vulnerable families to camps as winter temperatures fall.

State/PRM partner WHO is collaborating with the GoT Ministry of Health, Yildirim Beyazit University in Ankara, the Provincial Health Directorate of Gaziantep, and Gaziantep University to promote the temporary integration of Syrian refugee health professionals into the Turkish health system, enabling them to continue providing health care services to Syrian refugees in camps and urban settings. WHO offered a one-week course on primary health care in Turkey in late November to familiarize Syrian medical doctors—who already provide health care services in camps near the Turkey–Syria border—with Turkish health services. At least 25 Syrian doctors are now providing medical services for Syrian refugees at NGO-operated clinics.

The Government of Germany announced a €34.2 million—approximately $39.5 million—contribution to UNICEF’s Syrian refugee response in Lebanon on January 19. Among other activities, the grant will assist the agency in providing access to quality formal and non-formal education in safe and protective environments and ensuring that girls, boys, and women have adequate access to child protection services.

In response to the winter storm, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched emergency airlifts of blankets, winter clothes, food, medicine, and heaters for Syrian refugees in Gaza, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon on January 7. Funding came from the Government of the UAE, private corporations, and individuals. Planes delivered a total of 89,000 blankets to Jordan for Syrians residing in refugee camps and urban areas, and UN officials noted additional items are en route for people in other refugee camps throughout the region, media report. The UAE Red Crescent and UNHCR are supporting relief item distributions in the camps.

On January 12, the Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) launched a campaign to distribute aid to Syrian refugees suffering from the effects of cold winter temperatures in Lebanon. KRCS assistance will include blankets, winter clothing, heaters, and fuel.

Government of the Republic of Korea (GoROK) Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se visited Za’atri camp on December 19, committing $1 million in humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees there. The GoROK designated the majority of funding to purchase 300 caravans for Syrian refugee households, with the remaining support to help improve education facilities in the camp.

Following the commencement of peaceful demonstrations against the SARG in March 2011, President Bashar alAsad pledged legislative reforms. However, reforms failed to materialize, and SARG forces loyal to President al-Asad began responding to demonstrations with violence, leading armed opposition groups to retaliate.

At a November 2012 meeting in Doha, Qatar, Syrian opposition factions formed an umbrella organization—the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, also known as the Syrian Coalition (SC). The USG recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people on December 11, 2012. On March 19, 2013, the SC established the Syrian Interim Government, which opposes the SARG and is based in decentralized locations throughout opposition-held areas of Syria.

Shortly after its formation, the SC established the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) to coordinate humanitarian aid to Syria. The USG, other donors, and NGO representatives meet with the ACU on a regular basis to share information regarding identified needs, current and planned assistance, and challenges to providing aid.

The UN Security Council adopted UNSCR 2139 on February 22, 2014, pressing the SARG and other armed actors to allow unfettered humanitarian access for relief aid workers in Syria. The resolution identified priority areas for emergency relief aid, and the U.N. is releasing monthly reports tracking progress on implementing the resolution’s objectives and access gains, as well as persistent access impediments.

On July 14, 2014, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted UNSCR 2165, authorizing U.N. cross-border and cross-line delivery of humanitarian aid to conflict-affected populations without SARG approval. The new resolution permits the UN’s use of four border crossings from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq—in addition to other crossings already in use by UN agencies—for delivery of humanitarian assistance into Syria. The resolution also establishes a monitoring mechanism—under the authority of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and with the consent of the neighboring countries—to ensure that deliveries across these border points contain only humanitarian items.

UNRWA has registered approximately 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, with more than 80 percent living in and around Damascus. Intense fighting in and around Palestinian camps and neighborhoods has significantly affected Palestinian refugees in Syria. UNRWA estimates that over 50 percent of Palestinian refugees are displaced within Syria, with a further 14 percent displaced to neighboring countries. Syria also hosts an estimated 39,500 Iraqi refugees, primarily in the greater Damascus area.

The most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. A list of humanitarian organizations that are accepting cash donations for disaster responses around the world can be found at

The USG encourages cash donations because they allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, and warehouse space); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; and ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

Last updated: May 23, 2019

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