The people of Syria are more concerned about escalating violence than the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Freedom House / Flickr


Covid-19 complicates humanitarian operations in Syria

The organization Syria Relief works to help sick women and children in Syria with local doctors and nurses. But the corona pandemic is causing concern in a country plagued by war and insecurity.  

In early 2020, the region of Idlib in northwestern Syria was hit by the worst humanitarian disaster in the country's ten-year civil war. Three million people, including one million children, who fled to the relatively safe region of Idlib, were caught in a military offensive by the Syrian regime. Hundreds of thousands of people fled without access to food, housing and health care. The lack of tents has also forced people to sleep outdoors in sub-zero temperatures. The situation in Idlib has currently stabilized, but at the same time the whole world has been affected by the invisible coronavirus.

Amany Qaddour is the regional director of the organization Syria Relief and Development and a doctoral student in public health at John Hopkins University. The organization is run and established by her father Dr. Jihad Qaddour and sister Jomana Qaddour. Amany Qaddour talks about the work of offering healthcare to women and children. They mainly employ Syrian doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers. They set up health centers and schools to give the Syrians access to vital care, food, protection and education. The long-term benefit will be that part of Syria's educated workforce will remain in the country, which could simplify the reconstruction of the country after the war.

Since 2011 has Syria Relief and Development offered help to over eleven million people. But what is it that makes these people risk their lives and stay in a war zone?

- I can not talk about these amazing people without being moved. The only thing I can say is that they are heroes, says Amany Qaddour.

She says that the most common reason why the Syrians stay to help is a sense of responsibility. It is about using their skills to make life a little more bearable for the compatriots who are left and do not have the opportunity to leave the country.

- When a humanitarian crisis arises, international organizations often act quickly, but after the crisis they leave the country. This creates a great shortage of doctors, nurses and teachers. We try to prevent this, says Amany Qaddour.

The number of confirmed corona cases is increasing

The pandemic's entry into the world may cause the situation in Idlib to change again. At present (30 Sept) there are approximately 4100 confirmed cases of covid-19 in the country and over 190 people are said to have died as a result of the virus according to the WHO. At the same time, it is feared that the number of infected can be up to over 100 people. Amany Qaddour is worried that the disease will spread and gain a stronger foothold in more parts of society.

Amany Qaddour warns that the situation in Syria could quickly get worse if other countries and international organizations do not provide humanitarian aid. Photo: Private photo.

- Because the area is so heavily overcrowded, a fall can quickly turn into a hundred, which then turns into several thousand. Most people live in camps or tents and therefore do not have access to doors and windows, which makes it difficult to distance themselves.

Unlike Sweden, where there are more resources and the opportunity to prioritize the fight against the coronavirus, the population also has other needs that need to be met. Amany Qaddour says that the Syrians are fighting for food, protection and basic care in order to survive. The population is more concerned about escalating violence and regional military strikes than with the coronavirus, according to Qaddour.

Difficult to get relief efforts

The pandemic has also made it more difficult to obtain food, supplies, medical protective equipment and, above all, corona tests to be able to locate and prevent the virus from spreading, according to Middle East Institute in Washington, USA. Global demand for the goods is also high and Syria finds it difficult to compete with other countries such as Sweden, Germany and the United States. Amany Qaddour is now appealing for help from other countries and international organizations.

- If we Syrians do not receive continued support, the situation can quickly worsen here, says Amany Qaddour.

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