BEIRUT: The International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Thursday of a worsening crisis in northeast Syria, where water cuts, food shortages and depleted health services are proving as dangerous as coronavirus.
Home to sprawling displacement camps hosting tens of thousands of people, including families of Islamic State group members, the Kurdish-held northeast has been hard hit by nine years of war.
A Covid-19 outbreak, which the United Nations says has infected six people and killed one in the region, has only added to a litany of challenges in the area, the ICRC said.
“For millions of people in northeast Syria, consequences of fighting, shortages of water, food and medicine, a lack of electricity, the economic downturn with job losses and price hikes are as much of a worry as coronavirus,” said Karim Mahmoud, ICRC office head in the city of Hasakeh.
Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC’s regional director, said “there’s a risk that profound crises will worsen, hidden in plain sight, while the world’s attention is on” the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under pressure from Russia, the UN Security Council in January reduced the number of border crossings authorised to deliver humanitarian aid to northern Syria from four to two, both on the Turkish frontier.
The Yarubiya entry point on the Iraqi border, used mainly to deliver UN-funded medical aid to the northeast, was one of those scrapped, causing an aid shortage.
Only one out of 16 hospitals is fully functioning, while eight are partially operational and seven are out of commission, the ICRC said. Over 50 percent of the local population in northeast Syria is believed to be food insecure, which means they consume less than 2,100 calories a day, the World Food Programme says.