Piercing cold, ice storms, and heavy snow have worsened the living conditions of over 80 000 Syrians sleeping in the open air after fleeing a government offensive in the country's northern province of Idlib. Save the Children organization confirmed on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, that at least seven youngsters-- including a seven-month-old baby-- have died from freezing temperatures in camps.
An aid worker from Hurras Network, a partner of Save the Children, reported that among the fatalities were two sisters, aged four and three, who died when their tent burned down due to unsafe heater.
In addition, two girls aged ten and three died from suffocation from their heating equipment. Three other children froze to death, who were reportedly aged 14, one, and a seven-month-old baby.
One child from the refugee camp named Mira told the organization her situation, saying, "I did not like the snow in the camp because it was really cold and both my sister and I got sick. Part of our tent collapsed because of the weight of the snow on it.
"I did not have clothes or anything to keep me warm in our tent. I want shoes to play in the snow like my friends."
The UN chief for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock also said Monday that children and women, who are among the majority of the affected, were "traumatized and forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures because camps are full."
In some parts of northern Syria, heavy snow and temperatures as low as -11 °C (12.2 °F) even made conditions worse.
Mothers would burn plastic in order to keep their children warm, he added, while others would burn clothes and tires. "Babies and small children are dying because of the cold."
"Babies and small children are dying because of the cold."— AJ+ (@ajplus) February 17, 2020
The UN says 900K people have been displaced in northwest Syria by a govt siege that has killed hundreds of civilians.
Most are women and children, many sleeping in freezing conditions because camps are full. pic.twitter.com/iF7WegkkXy
Bad humanitarian situation facing the displaced Syrians in Idlib Governorate, coinciding with a significant decrease in temperature and the movement of displacement from different areas of Idlib countryside and Aleppo,#SaveTheRestOfUs#Response_Coordination_Group pic.twitter.com/eszUhU9TrW— Response Coordination Group (@group_response) February 11, 2020
More from the damaging ice storm in Masyaf city, (550 m ASL), Hama Governorate, Syria on Feb 14th. Masyaf lies on the eastern slopes of the mountains facing the cold eastern winds, warm front came from the west and resulted in freezing rain. Thanks to Ali Samoul for the report! pic.twitter.com/Zhk4RKzQ5D— severe-weather.EU (@severeweatherEU) February 18, 2020
Mayada Qabalan, a mental health worker with the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), said the conditions for displaced families have come to a "breaking point."
"What I've seen with my own eyes is heartbreaking," she said. "Families are sleeping under trees with no cover."
Furthermore, Qabalan noted that humanitarian groups lack resources and manpower to provide help. "Aid organizations don't have the capacity for providing for these newly displaced people and the disastrous situation they face."
"It is as though people are watching and waiting when they could be acting to save millions of civilians that are effectively trapped."
With temporary camps already full, churches and schools also began providing shelter to displaced families.
As the crisis has reached a "horrifying new level", Lowcock has called for international action on the crisis on Monday. "We’ve been calling repeatedly in the Security Council for the protection of the civilian population," he reiterated.
"A huge relief operation, across the border from Turkey, is underway, but it is overwhelmed. The equipment and facilities being used by aid workers are being damaged."
"The biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century will only be avoided if Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first. The only option is a ceasefire."
It’s snowing now in some parts of NW Syria as the winter exodus continues— Mark Cutts (@MarkCutts) February 11, 2020
This picture from the western part of Idleb was taken this afternoon, showing tents covered in snow. More snow expected tomorrow pic.twitter.com/0bfCbTlcmK
They fled with their children from the hell of the bombing to the unknown. There is no place to shelter them from the harsh winter cold. Our teams are working with their full capacity to build tents and secure shelter for several families to provide them with some warmth.#syria pic.twitter.com/ndQyzDskVk— The White Helmets -Aleppo (@scdaleppo) February 17, 2020
We had sleeping bags sewn at a small factory in #Syria and now they've been given to 3,900 kids who tonight will get tucked into their cozy sleeping bags and feel a bit warmer far from home in the bitter cold. Your love is keeping them warm. https://t.co/wHcs8i2dWf pic.twitter.com/rJQhFzqyJ7— Partners (@PartnersRelief) February 17, 2020
"Some are dying because of the cold"— SavetheChildren News (@SaveUKNews) February 13, 2020
290,000 children have been driven from their homes by the fighting in #Idlib and face freezing conditions in the camps. #Syria https://t.co/OGOgqq6ULc pic.twitter.com/C331OoNhnr
Syria's neighboring countries Iran, Iraq, and Turkey also suffered bitter cold, deadly blizzards, and heavy snow in the past days.
In Iran, severe snowstorms killed at least eight people and also disrupted power to hundreds of thousands. In Iraq, rare snowfall blanketed capital city Baghdad for the second time in over 100 years. In Turkey, at least 41 died in avalanches as severe cold snap produced record temperatures.
Featured image credit: Save the Children