Winter floods out Syria’s displaced

Syria displaced flooding tents

UNICEF/Khaled Akacha

At least 196 sites in Idlib and Aleppo, Syria reportedly sustained damage, with many roads leading to the camps cut off by heavy rains reported the United Nations in a humanitarian bulletin. At least 67,600 have reportedly been affected, and more than 3,760 tents destroyed, with over 7,720 damaged. 

“Thousands of people have been temporarily relocated, many requiring shelter, food, and non-food item support immediately, and in the long term”, the UN’s Humanitarian Affairs Office (OCHA) reported, underscoring the need for more sustainably-designed temporary shelter which may last longer than humanitarian development offices may plan for. 

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Taking cues from the tiny home movement, we are sure colleges and design schools around the world, along with architects, can start planning some better solutions for temporary shelter for the world’s displaced – millions from the civil war with Syria, and millions more who end up in countries like Greece from Africa, seeking refuge or maybe just a better life. 

We’ve featured here 10 of the best refugee shelters as a starting point. Take our cues as a way to start designing shelter that may need to last at least a decade. Consider the elements, the weather, the environment and how low impact but long lasting shelters can be made, or even roll away after the displaced start to find more permanent conditions.

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“The rain and low temperatures highlight the continued need for fuel and heating, winter clothes, blankets, food, livelihoods, and water, sanitation and hygiene,” the United Nations group has said. 

Without sufficient “winterization” – preparing shelters and camps to withstand the harsh conditions and keep occupants warm – people in need could resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as burning unsafe materials for heat, raising the risk of fire outbreaks and toxic fumes. 

The likelihood of accidental fires is increased by challenges in accessing safe fuels, as a result of scarcity and high prices of fuel as well as the general economic deterioration in northwest Syria, it added. Consider the Israeli company Homebiogas which makes clean cooking fuel from kitchen waste and human excrement. It’s a no brainer. We have all the solutions out there. Some motivated person needs to connect the dots. 

In the past month in Syria, some 17 fire incidents were reported that affected 28 households, destroyed 28 tents, resulting in one death and seven injuries. This is from fires and unsafe cooking. 

Meanwhile, ongoing fighting in the region continues to take a toll on civilians, especially near near the M4 and M5 highways – two key arteries linking the capital Damascus with Aleppo city and much of northern Syria. I travelled through Syria and the world is pretty bleak along these highways.  

A number of civilian casualties – including children – have been reported due to artillery shelling or improvised explosive devices or unexploded ordinances. Some incidents occurred in residential areas or at local markets, raising risk for civilians. 

Syria displaced tents flood

UNICEF/Khaled Akacha


Continued hostilities in Syria, new and protracted displacement and a sustained erosion of communities’ resilience after a decade of conflict, has left millions in desperate need of assistance. 

Across Syria, an estimated 13 million people – over 70 per cent of the population – are expected to require aid in 2021. The UN estimates that 10.5 million people will be targeted with humanitarian assistance through the year at a cost of $4.2 billion, which is a 10 per cent increase compared to 2020. With Covid we can expect everything to become worse. 


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