The war in Syria, which started in 2011, had hardly started to recede when the new coronavirus pandemic hit the country, revealing the inadequacy of its social, developmental and economic system.
While the nature and causes of the two crises, war and corona, differ, they have similar repercussions on the population: loss of sources of incomes and jobs, and rise in prices and poverty, which reflects negatively on the social and economic indicators(1).
During the corona crisis, the Syrian Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour launched a national campaign to help vulnerable groups overcome the crisis, both through cash and in-kind support(2).
The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) documents in this brief the measures and responses the Syrian Arab Republic took to the corona pandemic and to protect vulnerable groups such as the poor, the elderly, children, day workers, migrants, refugees and people with disabilities.
According to a 2019 UN report, Syria ranked number 1 in poverty globally, with 82.5. 83% of Syrians living below the poverty line, 33% lacking food security and around 11.7 million people in need of various forms of humanitarian assistance, such as food, water, shelter, health and education(3).
Similar to other Arab countries, in Syria the health system struggles with a lack of nurses, doctors, medical equipment, personal protective equipment and testing kits, as well as overcrowded hospitals throughout the country(4).
Six and a half million internally displaced people face aggravated challenges. More than 2 million people (the majority of them women and children) live on the Syrian-Turkish border in overcrowded tents or temporary camps. Amid the spread of corona, they lack water, food, hygiene products and access to health protection services. Several organisations and institutions warn that a humanitarian crisis threatens Syrians in the areas outside the control of the regime if the virus starts spreading in the primitive camps that do not allow for social distancing(5).
Also the death rate among newborns is increasing due to lack of ventilators and incubators and children are at risk of contracting corona due to the limited freedom of movement for patients. Moreover, the closure of schools in camps and lack of access to online education opportunities negatively affect their education(6).
Amid the worrisome lack of resources and capacities, officialdom — ministries, directorates, certain organizations — response is almost non-existent.
The elderly do not fare better, due to a lack of basic care and quarantine centers. All this is aggravated by the prevalence of extreme poverty and the inability to reach testing centers or acquire preventive equipment(7).
The measures taken by the Syrian government, including closing shops, restaurants and tourist establishments, and limiting domestic and foreign transportation, led to tens of thousands of people losing their jobs and ending up with no financial security or government support(8).
The government responded by providing SYP 100,000, around $100, for each of the hundreds of thousands of daily workers that lost their jobs. The unprecedented challenging circumstances created numerous problems within households, amplifying their daily life and psychological challenges and, in some cases, leading to divorce(9).
Random shelling targeting civilians during the war caused permanent disabilities, such as loss of limbs, to hundreds of thousands of people. Amid the corona crisis, they are still short of proper medical and health care and treatment(10).
Youth groups and local organizations launched several initiatives, providing support as part of an attempt to fight corona and build social coherence. They work on raising awareness and sterilizing bakeries and gathering places, while strengthening the sense of solidarity around the country(11).
Social protection in Syria is totally insufficient; as such, it is essential to have a national institution use a comprehensive approach to guarantee inclusive and full social protection, as well as to establish a national fund for people who lost their jobs due to the crisis.
1/2 The Syrian crisis… between social response and social protection
3 Solidarity: The only weapon Syrians can fight corona with
4 Syria facing an unprecedented crisis with corona
5 Corona threatens Syrians in camps
6 Corona aggravates Syrian children’s struggles
7 Syria: Wishes no longer help as Covid-19 threatens the elderly
8/9 Poverty and divorce aggravated in Syria due to coronavirus
10 People with disability marginalised during the fight against corona
11 Syria: Local initiatives and solidarity promoting the fight against corona