When one imagines humanitarian aid operations, more often than not warm weather regions like Southern Asia, Latin America, and Africa come to mind. With this, it is easy to forget that currently many of the major ongoing crises are taking place in areas that are either experiencing severely detrimental winter conditions, or acute weather issues like storms and flooding. The affects of climate change serve to further strain ongoing humanitarian operations, as weather conditions grow more extreme.
To date, internally displaced peoples (IDP) in Syria, Lebanon, and Afghanistan have been affected by above average heavy rains (snow in higher elevations), which has led to widespread flooding. This has resulted in a necessary increase in efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), working to transport displacement shelters to higher ground away from flooded areas.
UNHCR winterization strategy aims to serve as many in need as possible, with 3.5 million Syrians vulnerable to winter conditions, residing throughout Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt. Those in need lack access to items like thermal blankets, plastic sheeting, heaters and gas, as well as winter clothing, all of which humanitarian organisations aim to provide. Additional needs are met through seasonal cash assistance, and helping to winterize shelters with weather proofing, drainage systems, replacement and repairs of damaged shelters, and additional infrastructure for camps. As of 31 December 2018, 2.7 million of the 3.5 million in need have been reached.
The World Health Organization reports the dangers of winter related health conditions and disease, associated with overcrowding and poor air quality, which are especially detrimental to children. Influenza, measles, tuberculosis, and chronic asthma are heightened during the winter months. In Rukban, near the Syria-Jordan border, approximately 40,000 people are stranded in a displacement settlement, with no access to functioning medical facilities and no respite from bitter winter conditions, which has led to several deaths.
While IDP settlements are often the most vulnerable to winter weather conditions, displaced households are continuing to return home in various affected regions across the globe, and require winterization aid as well. The International Organization for Migration works with local authorities and organizations to prioritize distribution of essential materials for hard-to-reach and especially vulnerable areas. Many returning home find massive destruction, with belongings and homes completely destroyed, leaving them exposed to the cold.
Continued support by humanitarian aid organisations is essential to ensure the survival of those in need throughout the winter months. In addition to unimaginable conflict and violence, the serious impact that seasonal and severe weather conditions have on humanitarian aid operations, and all those affected by conflict and disaster worldwide, cannot be overlooked.
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Image courtesy of NATO/Capt. John Callahan via Flickr