GENEVA - The United Nations warns a full-scale war in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib could become this century’s worst humanitarian disaster as countless thousands of the nearly 3 million civilians trapped in this enclave would be killed.
The U.N. reports an upsurge in aerial and ground-based bombardment by Syrian and Russian forces over the past week has killed scores of civilians and displaced more than 30,000 women, children and men within the region.
Half of Idlib’s nearly 3 million population is displaced from other areas in Syria. All are trapped in Idlib because there is nowhere else where they can go.
A spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Jens Laerke, says conversations with Syrian officials indicate the government is intent on retaking this last rebel-held enclave and will push for a military solution.
He calls this a very scary prospect.
“We are saying that this has the potential to be the worst crisis, humanitarian crisis in the 21st century because that is frankly what it looks like, if it goes ahead with a full- scale military operation... It is a horrible situation. It is a race against time. It is a race against where we have to try to plan for the worst possible scenario while we are trying the best we can to avoid that scenario.”
Laerke says aid agencies are stocking up on food, medicines and other essential relief in preparation for a military onslaught on Idlib. To add to the suffering of the people, he notes four hospitals in the area have been struck in less than a week, limiting the availability of medical care at a time when it will be especially needed.