More than two million displaced people living in northwestern Syria are bracing themselves for an impending winter that will make already harsh living conditions even more unbearable. For many families, this is not the first winter they have endured in leaking tents, mud-filled streets, and freezing temperatures. In recent years, the region has seen multiple waves of mass displacement—between December 2019 and March 2020, fighting in the Idlib region forced one million people to flee, many of whom were already displaced.
To help improve living conditions during winter, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have started distributing winter kits to approximately 14,500 families living in more than 70 camps for displaced people across the region. The kits contain warm clothes, tarpaulins, mattresses, and blankets.
MSF teams have also started rehabilitating 2,275 tents in six camps west of Idlib. This involves installing flooring in and around the tents, improving the tents’ thermal insulation, and building brick barriers to protect them from flooding.
Every winter, MSF medical teams that work in these crowded camps treat an increasing number of people with respiratory diseases, problems related to smoke inhalation, burns, waterborne diseases, and frostbite. MSF has also deployed health promotion teams to spread health awareness messages about common winter diseases, assess people’s health needs and the daily challenges they face, and to inform them about MSF’s mobile clinic services.
Meanwhile, more than 17,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been registered in the region—some fear that the number of infections will increase significantly.
“In the coming winter, it will also become more complicated for health workers to distinguish between people with symptoms of a cold and people with COVID-19 symptoms,” said Dr. Lim. “In that sense, winter is going to bring additional challenges for everyone [and] to the already critical situation in northwestern Syria.”