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Extremely harsh winter raises acute humanitarian needs in Syria

In many areas, this winter is one of the coldest in decades. Many returning refugees look for ways to keep warm in their tents or damaged houses. In the mountainous regions of Al Qunaytirah and Dar'a where ZOA works, temperatures drop below zero.


People have to survive with only the most basic resources

'There is a serious shortage of stoves and fuel' explains Marjanne van Vliet, country director for ZOA in Syria. ‘Returnees have nothing to return to but damaged, cold houses.’ The humanitarian situation in Syria is deteriorating day by day.

Marjanne van Vliet, landendirecteur ZOA Syrië

After more than ten years of crisis in Syria, there is almost nothing left of a basic infrastructure. Many people have fled the country or have sought temporary refuge elsewhere in Syria. As the situation stabilized, some of them return to their homes. Marjanne: “But can you speak of a house if it is nothing more than bare walls and a roof? Furniture and personal items are gone. People survive in looted, cold houses.”

Snow and ice

ZOA coordinates aid to various regions in Syria from its office in Damascus. Help that is desperately needed, especially in the areas of Al Qunaytirah and Dar'a, where temperatures drop below zero. Jemma, ZOA’s project worker who’s responsible for the distribution of relief supplies, talks about the challenges her team faces: ‘In winter, the snow turns into a layer of ice that lasts up to two months. This makes the area difficult to reach, while people have to survive in these harsh circumstances.’

Surviving in tents

Sometimes returned refugees have no choice but to camp in tents, because other people have moved into their homes. Marjanne: “People cannot always prove that it is their home. They lost their property deeds during the flight.” Jemma adds: “Sometimes those tents are placed in an empty building to find a little more shelter from the cold weather.”

Shortage of stoves

The government assists people in need, but they cannot meet all needs. Jemma: “People get 50 liters of diesel per family, for example, which they have to use for the entire winter season. But that's only enough for two weeks. In addition, there is a great shortage of stoves. They are even stolen from schools. For many people, stoves are also unaffordable. A simple stove costs almost one and a half times the average monthly income.” Alternatively, people burn wood from olive trees, while these trees are a source of income. People also look for pieces of paper and cardboard among the waste. They'd burn anything to keep themselves warm.

Aid packages

The winter aid packages that ZOA distributes with blankets, warm clothing, stoves and fuel are welcomed with open arms. ZOA carefully examines which families are eligible for this. Marjanne: “Apart from all the challenges that already exist, many people have a disability as a result of the war. They also experience trauma. They are really grounded and every day is a struggle for survival. Our aid packages for these most vulnerable people are therefore of vital importance.”

More about ZOA's work in Syria