Syria in 2020: How concern becomes action

September 4, 2020

Numbers may never tell the full story of a humanitarian crisis — or of the emergency responses to those crises — but if you’ve ever wanted to go deep on what we do with a grant once it’s received, and how we measure success, here’s a look at how we’re using a grant from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) to fund our response in Syria.

Earlier in 2020, Syria entered the tenth year of a protracted civil war. In addition to other effects, the Syria crisis has brought with it a large humanitarian impact, displacing over 12 million and leaving nearly as many in need of humanitarian assistance. Many of you reading this may have already supported Concern’s work in Syria (and with Syrians displaced in Turkey and Lebanon). 

But where does that money go? With funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Concern has entered the third phase of a multi-sector response to the humanitarian crisis in the region. If you’ve ever been curious as to how a grant is spent, this will give you a behind-the-scenes look at how concern becomes action. It may not always make for dramatic photography, but it’s the essential, basic work that saves lives every day. 

Data on humanitarian needs in Syria, as of December 2019, via UNOCHA

An overview of humanitarian needs in Syria, with data via UNOCHA (as of December 2019).

The state of humanitarian needs in Syria

As of December 2019, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported over 70% of Syrians still living in-country as being in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. This does not include the millions of Syrians living outside of the country, many as refugees in informal settlements who require similar levels of assistance. 

This includes 5.9 million Syrian women, 5.8 million Syrian men, and 5 million Syrian children. What was once a country with a thriving middle class now sees 83% of its citizens living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day. 33% don’t have enough food to meet their daily nutrition requirements. The conflict has also impacted local and national infrastructure, including water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) — all of which are especially necessary now given the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Data showing Concern's reach to-date on Phase III of our humanitarian response in Syria

Concern’s reach to-date on Phase III of our humanitarian response in Syria. This project is funded through a grant from ECHO ( European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations). Our water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH) programs have some of the highest reach.

Concern’s Syrian response: The challenges, and the results

In the middle of 2019, Concern began the third phase of a multi-sector response in Syria, funded by ECHO and addressing many of the needs outlined above. Emergency response is never easy, but a few additional challenges over the last year have continued to affect humanitarian response for all organizations currently in the country. As of now, our three biggest challenges are: 

  1. Increased conflict leading to additional displacement and instability 
  2. Declining value of the Syrian Pound, which has inflated food prices and increased levels of food insecurity
  3. COVID-19 has closed borders, limiting both the work we can do and the ways we can measure the work we have done. Fortunately, we have been able to focus on one of the key areas of prevention in this pandemic, WASH. 

A protracted, complex emergency like Syria means that our humanitarian response plans continue to evolve as situations change and priorities shift. Our latest phase of our Syria response has focused on improving water, sanitation, and hygiene services to compensate for the lack of local infrastructure, assisting the most vulnerable families with food security, offering support across sectors to those who have been forced to leave their homes (often multiple times over), and ensure protection of those we serve in all actions, including the establishment of protection centers and child-friendly spaces. 

Data showing the breakdown of Syrians reached through water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming led by Concern

How our three main areas of WASH programming reached Syrians in the first few months of our Phase III Syria response, plus where we go from here.

Why WASH works

Given that water is one of the most basic elements for survival, its reach is proportionate to its priority. Of these activities and priorities, repairing one water station or network has some of the greatest reach and benefits in a situation like Syria. In less than a year, we reached nearly 85,000 people by providing emergency assistance with water points and latrines in displacement camps (reaching 8,570), trucking water into four camps (reaching 17,041), and rehabilitating three water stations (reaching 58,000). 

Continuing on this track, we plan to rehabilitate five more water stations and four water networks, and provide chlorination to 20 water stations to help provide more options for safe drinking water. Combined, these activities would reach an additional 162,000 people. 

Data showing the reach and success of Concern's nutrition and food security programs in Syria from late 2019 to early 2020

Measuring the reach and success of Concern’s nutrition and food security programs in Syria from late 2019 to early 2020.

Investing for a different kind of growth

Beyond water, we’re also making sure that Syrians get the assistance they need to get their daily amount of calories and nutrients. With inflation driving up food costs and many families often on the move, this is a constant challenge, and one area where we put a lot of our funding. 

Food vouchers and baskets are one way we work with our partners in Syria to meet what we call in the humanitarian sector an acceptable “food consumption score” (FCS). The basic gist of this technical term is that we want to make sure that not only are the people we work with eating enough, but that they’re also eating enough of the foods that will get them the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy (especially for children whose bodies are still developing). In less than a year, we’ve invested nearly $150,000 in food vouchers for Syrian families. 

But in many areas, there is room to grow. Literally. We’ve allocated a small but mighty portion of our ECHO funding to support over 500 families with vouchers for seeds and farming equipment to grow gardens on their land, adapting to the challenges of climate change and limited resources.

Measuring success

When we measure the success of this, however, we don’t look at the money spent: We go back to the food consumption score to better understand how these vouchers help families in the long run. In less than a year, we’ve reached an estimated 10,800 people, and nearly 65% are now reporting acceptable food consumption scores. The other 35% have all reported significant improvements. 

What does that mean, practically speaking? Healthier families, reduced levels of hunger, and removing a small but hard-hitting psychological weight for many parents. 

Data measuring the work and reach completed by Concern in the last several months in Syria.

Within the first few months of our Phase III response in Syria, we had refurbished several shelters protecting displaced Syrians before the onset of winter, and also set up Child-Friendly Spaces that are catering to several hundred of Syria’s youngest displaced civilians, helping to ensure that they are able to enjoy as much of a normal childhood as they can. While the reach of this work is smaller in comparison to some of our other programs, it also represents a higher investment of time and resources.

Emergency Response and Protection

Not every number is a big one, but their impact is just as great. With 13.2 million people in need of protection in Syria due to active conflict and new displacement creating complex crises, much of this particular grant has also responded to vulnerable families living in informal camps and settlements. 

Some of our proudest numbers, however, are even smaller: 334 reached with shelter rehabilitations (a total of 40 shelters), and 369 children enjoying our Child-Friendly Spaces. In terms of our work, we can see how a water delivery or the repair of a water point would be a relatively short amount of time and resources with a big impact. Comparatively, these shelter rehabilitations and Child-Friendly Spaces are a much greater investment of time and resources and reach fewer people in one go. But they go a lot further to protecting the safety and dignity of Syrian civilians.

Not every success in humanitarian work can be summed up in a number.

Learn more

Download a PDF overview of our Phase III ECHO-funded Syria response using the link below.