UN: More than 30,000 displaced in Syria's Idlib in latest offensive
More than 30,000 people have so far fled their homes in northwest Syria since the regime and its allied forces resumed air and ground bombardments there last week, the UN agency coordinating relief efforts said yesterday.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said an all-out military assault on the last major stronghold of active opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad could set 800,000 people to flight. The OCHA chief, Mark Lowcock, warned that this risked provoking the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st Century.
Damascus, backed by Russia and Iran, has been preparing a major assault to recover Idlib and adjacent areas of northwest Syria from opposition groups.
Russian and Syrian warplanes resumed their bombing campaign last week and the presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday failed to agree on a ceasefire that would forestall the offensive.
OCHA spokesman David Swanson told Reuters that as of Sunday, 30,542 people had been displaced from northwest Syria, moving to different areas across Idlib.
About 2.9 million people live in the opposition-held area, which comprises most of Idlib province and adjacent small parts of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces. Around half of them are already displaced from other parts of Syria.
"We are very actively preparing for the possibility that civilians move in huge numbers in multiple directions," OCHA head Lowcock told a news briefing in Geneva.
"There needs to be ways of dealing with this problem that don't turn the next few months in Idlib into the worst humanitarian catastrophe with the biggest loss of life of the 21st Century," he said.
Swanson said that since Friday's summit, mortar and rocket attacks had increased, especially in the northern Hama countryside and southern Idlib rural areas.
No water for fleeing refugees
He said 47 per cent of those displaced have moved to camps, 29 per cent are staying with families, 14 per cent have settled in informal camps and ten per cent are in rented accommodation.
Christy Delafield of Mercy Corps, one of the largest organisations delivering aid in Syria, said it has been hard for aid workers and communities to keep up with the displacement.
"There is a lack of water storage capacity in many of the areas in which we operate, with just two or three days' worth of water available to civilians," she told Reuters.
UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura began two days of talks in Geneva yesterday with senior officials from Russia, Iran and Turkey on forming a Constitutional Committee in Syria, but which were expected to be overshadowed by the Idlib crisis.