Syria’s Harsh Winters Require Dwellings That Can Brave Sub-Zero Temperatures

Fleeing from violence, many internally displaced Syrians face an unforgiving climate. Syria’s civil war has been fought through eight winters where sub-zero temperatures are common. In these conditions, many Syrians have frozen to death. Aid organizations are working to build more suitable living conditions to brave the environment. However, organizations are hindered by a lack of resources, a pandemic that threatens the world, and at the forefront, a war that rages on.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that over 800,000 people were displaced in Northwest Syria between 1 December 2019 to 12 February 2020. Devastatingly, 60 percent of these people were estimated to be children. Earlier this year, The Global Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster reported that 12 percent of newly displaced people sought refuge in tents, while approximately 82,000 people slept in open areas exposed to the elements. Mark Lowcock, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, wrote in a statement that displaced Syrians “are traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full. Mothers burn plastic to keep children warm. Babies and small children are dying because of the cold.” He went on, recognizing that the situation in Northwest Syria is the “biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century”.

In June, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said that since 13 January, Turkey had raised 104 million US dollars to help aid the crisis in North-Western Idlib. Soylu went on to say that Turkey would use the funds to finance 50,000 houses before the end of the year. Realizing the urgency of the situation, he said the houses would be built in the summer, so they are ready for winter. During the same meeting Tukey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Currently, this effort that we are doing along the border of our neighbour is of great importance.”

With the slogan “provide shelter for the oppressed”, the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation is also working to construct more appropriate forms of housing. Erhan Yemelek, the Foundation’s Vice President, has said that the “foundation’s first phase goal is to complete 15,000 briquette houses in the shortest possible time” to then hand “over to families victimized by the war.” By April of this year, the organization had already built 2,816 briquette houses. It is estimated that 90,000 civilians will benefit once the project is complete.

The Beşir Foundation has recently built 180 briquette homes in Idlib. The new living spaces offer families who had been living in tents, a better standard of living. Salih Kayabekir, the Beşir Foundation’s Social Aid Specialist, told Anadolu Agency that the homes have “a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a toilet in the houses that cover 40 square meters (430 square feet) on average”.

Syria’s winter is quickly approaching. Camps must have the capability to protect displaced Syrians from the harsh weather to come. Construction projects which are currently underway must not lose their momentum. Syria’s winter is five months away; without substantial homes, civilians will be more vulnerable than ever.