Update: On February 6, one of the deadliest earthquakes this century, followed by hundreds of aftershocks, hit the Turkish-Syrian border, adding to a litany of devastation in Syria. Read below to learn why this was one of the worst places in the world for the disaster to hit.

The ongoing war in Syria has destroyed the country’s health system and created a severe economic collapse. Though conflict levels in Syria were lower in 2022 than at the peak of the war, fighting has been escalating since late 2021 and shows no signs of ending. 

The crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, as well as regional and global economic shocks, have depreciated the value of the Syrian pound. This has increased the cost of food and contributed to the dismantling of Syria’s health system, which has been strained by a cholera outbreak. 

The future of the UN-supported cross-border aid mechanism remains in jeopardy and a failure to provide a reliable pathway for aid could devastate the humanitarian response in the country.

Humanitarian risks in 2023

Prolonged conflict

Despite a ceasefire in the northwest, there has been an increase in airstrikes and shelling since the start of 2022, and civilians continue to be the most impacted by the conflict. Further escalations could force more people, including those that have been previously displaced, to flee their homes once again.

In November, strikes hit several camps hosting internally displaced people, wounded 27 civilians and killed at least seven, including four children. The potential onset of Turkish military operations in northeast Syria may increase humanitarian need and the number of people forcibly displaced in the region.

Economic crisis

Syria is facing a severe economic crisis that has forced 90% of the country’s population below the poverty line. Over 75% of Syrians cannot meet their basic needs and rising food prices have made it increasingly difficult for families to make ends meet. The Syrian Pound also lost 25% of its value in 2022, increasing the prices of commodities, imported food and exacerbating the crisis.

Girl stands in front of family home that has been devastated by an airstrike.
Ten-year-old Aisha* stands in front of what’s left of her family home in northwest Syria after it was hit by an airstrike. Aisha’s father participated in an IRC programme that provided him with an employment opportunity renovating a local clinic, helping him make ends meet for his family.
Photo: Abdullah Hammam for IRC

Cholera outbreak 

More than a decade of conflict and some direct attacks have left a third of all hospitals and nearly half of all primary healthcare centres non-operational. The war has also damaged Syria’s water infrastructure, forcing 47% of the population to rely on unregulated and often unsafe sources of water. These conditions have allowed a cholera outbreak to rapidly spread since it was first detected in August 2022, reaching 46,000 suspected cases by November 2022. The outbreak will strain health services making it more difficult for Syrians to access appropriate health care in 2023.

An IRC health team member checks Sarra for malnutrition.

Sarra* and her family were forced to flee from their homes four times since the war in Syria broke out and now live in a displaced persons camp in northwest Syria. Here, Sarra is treated for malnutrition by a health team supported by the IRC. Photo: IRC

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Yasser sits at sofa and plays his buzuq.

Yasser*, 13, experienced depression after being displaced from his home in northeast Syria when the war broke out. The IRC’s counseling and mental health services helped Yasser express his feelings through music and make new friends with children who live in the same camp for displaced people. “Whenever I am playing music I feel like I’m over the moon,” says Yasser. “It’s such a nice feeling.” Photo: Nada Bader

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Sayida carries clean water back to the camp where she lives.

Sayida*, 52, lost her husband and five sons to the war in Syria. She carries clean water back to the camp where she lives after having been displaced from her home in northern Syria. Sayida receives medication and treatment for her diabetes from the IRC. Photo: Nada Bader

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How the IRC helps in Syria

The IRC has been working in Syria since 2012, responding to needs in the country’s northwest and northeast. The IRC promotes economic recovery with job training, apprenticeships and small business support. Our teams support early childhood development and provide counselling and protection services for women and children, particularly for survivors of violence. We support health facilities and mobile health teams with critical trauma services and primary, reproductive and mental health services. Our cholera response includes the provision of essential supplies for cholera prevention, control and treatment; training of clinical staff and community health workers on case detection, management and referral; as well as health education and hygiene awareness through house-to-house visits. We also support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. 

Update: In response to the recent earthquake we have launched an integrated response to affected populations across both Turkey and Syria. This includes the provision of immediate cash, basic items, such as blankets and towels, and hygiene supplies like soap, toothbrushes and feminine products. We will support essential health services in earthquake affected areas, and set up safe spaces for affected women and children.

Learn more about the IRC’s Syria response.

Read more about the top 10 crises the world can’t ignore in 2023 and download the full 2023 Emergency Watchlist report for profiles of all 20 crisis countries on the IRC's list.

How can I help?

Donate now to support the IRC's life-changing work in Syria and worldwide. We are on the frontlines providing critical aid to crisis-affected people in more than 40 countries, including places on the 2023 Emergency Watchlist.

*Name changed to protect safety