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UN Warns of Dangers to 120,000 in Northern Syria

FILE - Children look on as they stand next to a tent at a flooded camp for Syrians displaced by conflict near the village of Kafr Uruq, in Syria's northern rebel-held Idlib province, Jan. 17, 2021.

United Nations aid agencies warn more than 120,000 people who have fled war in northern Syria are struggling to survive weeks of torrential rains and heavy winds that have flooded and wreaked havoc on their campsites.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs calls the situation catastrophic. It says humanitarian staff members are working around the clock to reopen muddied, debris-filled roads to reach victims of this disaster with emergency relief.

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke reports heavy rains and strong winds have damaged or destroyed at least 21,700 tents that sheltered tens of thousands of people at about 300 sites. He says one child was killed and at least three people were injured.

“Many people who were already struggling to survive had their food stocks and household items and other possessions washed away, and water sources were contaminated," he said. "In some cases, small children, the elderly, pregnant mothers and other vulnerable people were left stranded in remote areas in the mud, as temperatures dropped below zero.”

These victims are among 2.7 million people who fled fighting in Idlib and other parts of northwest Syria. In November, Russian-backed government forces intensified their military offensive in Idlib, the last major rebel-held stronghold in Syria. OCHA reports increased air strikes and ground fighting forced more than 235,000 people in Idlib to flee their homes between December 12 and 25.

Laerke says international support is desperately needed and that thousands of people have been cut off from basic supplies and services for days.

“Humanitarian staff are now struggling to reopen access roads to reach the displaced in the northwest with emergency shelter, food, clean water and other supplies," he said. "It is a massive undertaking, and the work will continue for months. So far, the international response has not matched the scale of the crisis.”

OCHA says less the half of the $49 million appeal it issued to help people survive the freezing winter season and deal with the flooding has been received.