An aerial view shows a camp for internally displaced people covered in snow in Syria’s Aleppo province. AFP
Heavy snow and freezing rain have seriously affected about 250,000 displaced Syrians living in camps in the last major opposition stronghold in northwestern Syria, with tents collapsing and children having to walk in the snow in sandals, a senior UN humanitarian official said Monday.
"It’s a real disaster zone,” said Mark Cutts, the UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis who is in charge of cross-border aid operations from Turkey to the northwest.
Many of Syria's nearly three million displaced people face dire winter conditions with a brutal snow storm hammering the region, the United Nations warned on Monday as it urged the international community do more to protect them.
“No one should live in these conditions” and it is “absolutely unacceptable,” Mark Cutts, UN deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told reporters by video link.
A woman carries a child in the snow in the town of Azaz, Aleppo province, Syria, on Sunday. AFP
"We are extremely concerned" about the 2.8 million displaced people in the region, he said.
The latest storm has piled misery on war-ravaged Syria's northern refugee camps, where most of the displaced are living in tents, many of which are collapsing under the weight of snow. Other areas are enduring heavy rains or freezing temperatures.
"It's a real disaster zone," Cutts added, saying an appeal has gone out for the international community to help more.
Last year the United Nations requested more than $4 billion for humanitarian aid in Syria but only collected 45 percent of the amount, according to Cutts.
Due to a lack of equipment, snow-clearing operations were being conducted by hand, he said, as he called for tents to be replaced by hard sturdier shelters.
A woman removes snow on top of a tent in the town of Azaz, Aleppo, on Sunday. AFP
Idlib region, where the 2.8 million displaced live, is the last Syrian enclave to oppose the regime in Damascus.
Humanitarian aid reaches them mainly through the Turkey-Syria border under special UN authorisation free from Damascus interference, and which expires in July.
The recent snowstorm in the Middle East has left many Syrians as well as Lebanese, Jordanians and residents of eastern Turkey struggling to survive. And in Gaza, rain flooded streets in freezing temperatures, leaving residents struggling to stay warm.
Cutts said during a virtual news conference that northwest Syria has been especially hard hit because it has one of the most vulnerable populations in the world - 2.8 million displaced people living mainly in camps that "are bad at the best of times because it’s a war zone.” Despite a cease-fire, there has been shelling almost every day in the last year as well as a lot of airstrikes.
"But now during this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days,” he said. "About a thousand tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow in some areas and freezing temperatures,” down to minus 7 degrees Celsius (about 19 degrees Fahrenheit), as well as a lot of rain in some parts.
The militant stronghold has since September been protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal inked by Damascus ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey.
With the UN refugee agency indicating that a record 71 million people have now been displaced worldwide by war, persecution and other violence, the world community cannot anymore afford to turn a blind eye to the crucial issue. Collective and effective global measures to tackle the root causes of displacements
Khalil Ashawi went to the Atmeh camp for displaced people on the Syrian-Turkish border, where families have been sheltering since 2011 from a conflict that has made half of Syrians homeless.
Winter is the time when the cold really holds one in a vice-like grip. It particularly affects the homeless and the poor. For the well-off and those who can afford warm beds, heaters or even a fireplace, handling the cold weather is a breeze.
Preliminary investigation revealed that fire was a result of a gas cylinder explosion in the restaurant.
The Ministry stressed in a statement on Monday that its aim to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment.
A source close to the investigation said the person killed in the early hours of Monday was a security guard and that the death did not appear to have been a terrorism act.