On top of violence and poverty, there is also the earthquake. Psychological support and protection are needed. But the available funds are insufficient, especially in the long term



Twelve years after the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the prospects for the country seem anything but bright. Of the 4.8 billion dollars that would be needed to meet the needs of the population in 2023, only 258 million have arrived. That’s 5 percent. We asked Martin Rosselot, Regional Director for the Middle East, what the greatest needs are and how INTERSOS’ intervention will be organised in the long term.


Martin, what are the consequences of twelve years of crisis in Syria?


Firstly, after twelve years Syria is still a divided country. Divided into areas controlled by different forces, from the Syrian government to the Syrian Democratic Forces, to a series of armed groups more or less close to Turkey. The result is millions of people fleeing, inside the country and outside. We are talking about more than five million refugees and almost seven million displaced persons (UNHCR), and this means that many professionals are missing, in hospitals, among teachers, and that basic services are drastically reduced. Health centres and schools have been destroyed, and although many organisations provide humanitarian assistance, it is certainly not enough to rehabilitate all that is missing. With all this displacement, people have lost property and possessions, as well as the ability to support themselves.


To make matters worse, there is also the economic crisis: Syria is under sanctions, and there is very little investment. With a population of 22.1 million inhabitants, Syria counts 15.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2023 (HNO 2023), representing an increase of 0.7 million people compared to 2022. Poverty in general has increased, leading to dangerous coping mechanisms like child labor for instance, and directly increased food insecurity and malnutrition. And then, in the northeast and northwest of the country, cholera continues to spread. With the cold weather, cases have decreased, but they will certainly rise with the arrival of spring and summer. Another consequence of the conflict is the very high number of people with disabilities, which is much higher than the global average (i.e. 15%), in Syria reaching 24% of the population. This is why we have adapted our activities to meet their needs. Added to all this was the earthquake of 6 February.


What impact did the earthquake have on the population already exhausted by the crisis?


In addition to destroying towns and villages, the earthquake has above all created yet another great trauma. Many people have fled, sometimes from one governorate to another, for example from Aleppo to Hama, where we operate, seeking refuge in community shelters or with relatives. They have lost everything, are in shock, and need psychological support. These are people who have faced more than a decade of violence, of poverty, this umpteenth displacement has had a devastating impact on their mental health. All the people we met and helped were really suffering. No one feels safe anywhere anymore. It must also be said that when these massive movements of people in search of housing and makeshift solutions occur, protection risks, such as gender-based violence or exclusion from care, increase. It is therefore important to identify potential risks and be ready to help.


How is INTERSOS’ intervention organised?


Psychological support is a priority. We are focusing our response mainly on psychological first aid and case management. We try to rehabilitate community centres and resume collective activities wherever possible to provide safe spaces. And we work to open new ones. Another key aspect is to ensure access to health services, especially for displaced persons who, living in precarious conditions or in the cold, are most in need of care. To do this, we move with clinics and mobile medical teams, but we also work with the Ministry of Health to support health facilities, providing medicines and medical supplies.


We distribute kits of materials that people have lost. We distribute hygiene kits for all people in need and dignity kits for women and girls, mainly from 12 to 50 years old, containing mainly menstrual hygiene products. We distribute also warm clothes until the temperatures rise, and several essential items basic core items like blankets, mattresses, cooking sets, and lamps to those who have lost everything and have no resources to obtain these items. Finally, we rehabilitate schools, provide furniture, and school materials and train teachers with whom we carry out protection activities, using the schools as safe spaces to identify any problems on which to intervene with psychosocial support and case management.


In your opinion, what are the prospects for Syria in the near future?


For the response to the earthquake, the donors showed more immediate commitment, pledging, or providing 59% of the 400 million dollars that the humanitarian community needs. But we are still not reaching the amount we need to help the Syrian population. Some countries have done their part, allocated funds, and facilitated relations with suppliers and banks for money transfers, but we know that there may be a very difficult time after the first three months of the response when the recovery begins. There will be a high need for funds, schools and health centers will have to be rehabilitated and people will need support over a longer period to recover a minimum of self-sufficiency and a protective environment.