BEIRUT – At age 19, Fatima al-Omar is at her wits' end. In the last year alone, she lost her home to fighting in Syria’s last rebel-held enclave and her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She became the sole breadwinner for her mother, three siblings and grandmother as they moved around between shelters.
Then the coronavirus struck, aggravating conditions in northwest Syria just as new fighting had uprooted 1 million people — the biggest wave of displacement in the country's 10-year war. By late 2020, al-Omar contracted COVID-19, costing her the last job she had picking olives. She hasn't been able to find work since and is now at risk of another eviction.
“It was all difficult, but it just keeps getting harder,” al-Omar said, speaking by phone from the latest home she moved to in Binnish, a small town in rebel-held Idlib province.
Despite the worsening humanitarian situation across war-ravaged Syria, it’s been getting tougher every year to raise money from global donors to help people like al-Omar. The aid community is bracing for significant shortfalls ahead of a donor conference that starts Monday in Brussels and is being co-hosted by the United Nations and the European Union.
Pledges were already dropping off before the coronavirus pandemic mainly due to donor fatigue. Officials fear that with the global economic downturn spurred by the pandemic, international assistance for Syria is about to take a new hit just when it is needed most. Earlier this month, a U.N. appeal for aid to Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, was less than 50% funded, in what U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a disappointment.
Across Syria, the pandemic has compounded the worst economic crisis since the conflict began in 2011. The local currency has crashed and food prices have soared — increasing by 222% from last year. Nine out of 10 people live below the poverty line and in northwest Syria, close to three-quarters of the 4.3 million residents are food insecure.
According to the U.N., 13.4 million people in Syria, more than half the country's pre-war population, need assistance. That's a 20% increase from last year.
“We don’t have nearly enough money to provide all the services that are needed,” said Mark Cutts, the U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria.