Syrian government forces and allied Russia on Tuesday resumed intense airstrikes against opposition forces in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, the last major opposition stronghold. The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock has warned that the Idlib assault could lead to the worst humanitarian catastrophe with the biggest loss of life in the 21st century.
Idlib is currently home to some three million civilians, half of whom have fled to the province from other parts of the country. Among them are about a million children. According to Janine Lietmeyer, Malteser International’s Country Group Manager for Syria and Lebanon, delivering aid to people in need has become very difficult.
“Only local aid organizations are granted access to people in need and their work is repeatedly being hindered by all warring groups. Right now, more than two million people in Idlib are entirely dependent on humanitarian aid,” she said. “We agree fully with the UN's assessment that a major offensive by the Syrian army will have catastrophic consequences for the civilian population in the region."
Malteser International is preparing for another wave of displacement as the attacks resume, and is procuring emergency relief supplies including blankets, tents and mattresses. "In the coming months we expect up to 700,000 newly displaced persons in the border region with Turkey. Along with our local partner organizations, we are preparing to ensure that people receive medical care by means of mobile medical units. The capacities of the hospitals in the region are very limited. We want to prevent more people from dying by making sure that emergency departments are not completely overwhelmed,” said Lietmeyer.
The conflict in Syria, which began in the spring of 2011, has become one of the most brutal wars in recent decades. Seven years on, government forces have reclaimed most of Syria. Since 2013 Malteser International has been working together with Syrian partner organizations in the north of Syria to provide medical care and to respond to acute humanitarian needs.
With funding from the German Federal Foreign Office, Malteser International is currently supporting six health stations, a maternity hospital, a blood bank and a thalassemic clinic in the region of Idlib and West-Aleppo.