• Prior to the conflict that started in 2011, Syria was a thriving, middle-income country. Six years of fighting has left the country devastated. Close to half a million people have been killed, 11 million more have abandoned their homes and countless numbers are in desperate need of help. In Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, Oxfam is helping more than 2 million people by providing life-saving clean water, sanitation and vital support for families who have lost everything.

A Day in Aleppo Post-Earthquake: How Syrians Will Survive This New Cruel Chapter.

A displaced girl from Aleppo by the earthquake, makes a meal of boiled potatoes and bread. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh / Oxfam.


Walking the streets of Aleppo right after the devastating earthquake that hit the country on 6 February 2023, I was struck by the heavy silence hanging over the city. People were wandering in the streets aimlessly in the cold morning – some have lost their loved ones, or have seen their houses pummeled to the ground in front of their eyes, others fearing their buildings could collapse on top of them. Everyone looked scared and tired.

Moving around the city, I saw rooftops brought to the ground, furniture scattered underneath, and owners of some houses desperately attempting to pull out sentimental items like old pictures or personal documents from under the heaps of rubble. The scene was heartbreaking that I felt a lump in my throat. This is the worst earthquake that hit the country in a century. Thousands of people lost their lives under the collapsed buildings, many more were injured, and tens of thousands were forced to leave their homes fearing they would collapse.

“It took us a few minutes before we realised that this was a quake. It was as if the earth was breathing and with every breath, the whole building swayed right and left. Those few seconds were an eternity,” Mariam

Nehal, 47, a displaced woman from Aleppo, holds a flashlight she uses to light the way in the corridors of the shelter where she stays with her two daughters. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam.


Surviving the horrors of the earthquake

In Hellok, one of Aleppo's neighborhoods, where people gathered in a park away from buildings, I approached a group of women about that 'Black night' (the night of the earthquake as they later described it). They were sitting on the floor having nothing except what they put on when they rushed out of their homes. Some children were barefooted, while others were wearing some light clothes despite freezing temperature.

Mariam, a fifty-two-year-old woman, talked about the chaotic night with all the pain. She described the faint sound she heard when the earthquake hit. At first, she thought it was the sound of a shell landing nearby, but the sound soon became more deafening as it got louder. "It took us a few minutes before we realized that this was a quake. It was as if the earth was breathing, and with every breath, the whole building swayed right and left. Those few seconds were an eternity," says Mariam as a tear broke free, to be followed with more tears in an unbroken stream.

Mariam and her family had to spend that night outdoors under the heavy freezing rain. They first moved to a nearby mosque and then to a shelter, and they never got back home ever since. Six weeks after the earthquake, I can still see people like Mariam sitting in parks or in small tents, with no idea what they will do next. For them, the future is bleaker than any time, and their home, which was once a 'safe haven', is no longer a place of comfort or safety.

What is it like to stay in a shelter?

People escaped their unsafe or even collapsed buildings to stay in nearby hastily set up shelters that are massively overcrowded. In one school-turned-shelter I visited in Aleppo, 52 people were crammed into one small room, without enough blankets, mattresses, or even separations to give a bit of privacy to each family. "We're only receiving one meal a day," little Samira told me. The eleven-year-old girl had to move out of the rented apartment she's been living in with her mother and two sisters due to serious cracks in the walls and now shares a room with other families. Water isn't always enough to cover the needs in the shelter. "We have not taken a shower for almost twelve days," Samira explained. And even if water was available, women told us it is incredibly unsafe for them to use a facility without a door lock and doesn't have enough lighting, "This will leave us vulnerable if someone else walks in," they said.

A long battle ahead

The shock of the earthquake piled on top of 12 years of brutal war marked by crumbling infrastructure, financial collapse, Coronavirus, soaring food prices, and a recent cholera outbreak, forcing more and more people deeper into the bridge of poverty. No one really knows when the ramification of this quake will be over, but what we do know is that it can engulf entire communities and can last for months if not years if Syrians were not offered enough support that can help them live with dignity.

Our Oxfam team, together with partners, is already providing safe drinking water and installing water tanks to increase the storage capacity in shelters. We are repairing damaged water systems and distributing hygiene items in affected communities. Oxfam teams have also supported safety checks to buildings and fixed water taps and toilets in shelters. While we are stepping up efforts to support vulnerable people, much more support is still needed to help Syrians get back on their feet. We know that this will be a long journey before people rebuild their lives again.

This blog post is a contribution to the conversation Crisis in Syria Anniversary, views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent Oxfam International’s position. 


Blog by Dania Kare, Media and Communications officer Oxfam International

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“Before we feared dying of war, now we fear dying of hunger”: Ukraine crisis propelling hunger in Syria

15th March 2022

Eleven years after the Syrian conflict began, six in ten Syrians do not know where their next meal is coming from, said Oxfam today. It warned that reliance on imports from Russia means the current crisis in Europe could ripple into Syria, exacerbating food shortages and causing food prices to soar. In the last year, food prices in Syria have doubled.

Oxfam spoke to 300 Syrians in government-held areas of the country. Nearly 90 percent said they could only afford to eat bread, rice, and, occasionally, some vegetables. After ten years of conflict, the shockwaves of Covid-19, and the Lebanese banking crisis coupled with the Ukrainian crisis are having serious repercussions for the floundering economy, disrupting food and fuel imports and causing the Syrian pound to plummet at breakneck speed. 

Moutaz Adham, Country Director for Oxfam in Syria, said: “People have been pushed to the brink by a collapsing economy. Around Damascus, people queue for hours to get subsidized bread at state bakeries, while young children rifle through garbage trying to find scraps of food. Struggling to put food on the table means many families are turning to extreme ways to cope: going into debt to buy food, taking children out of school to work, and reducing the number of meals each day. Marrying off young daughters has become another negative coping strategy as it is one less mouth to feed. This is against a backdrop of 90 percent of Syrians living in poverty, unemployment rate at 60 percent and a monthly minimum wage in the public sector of approximately 26 US dollars.”  

He added: “Syria relies heavily on Russia for imports of wheat. The crisis in Ukraine has seen the Syrian government starting to ration food reserves, including wheat, sugar, oil, and rice amid fears of shortages and price surges, and this could be just the beginning.” 

Hala from Deir-ez-Zor told Oxfam: “It makes no sense for us to think about tomorrow, if we cannot even figure out what to put on our table today to feed our children.”  

Majed from Rural Damascus told Oxfam: “I work 13 hours a day to feed my children, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes I wish there is more than 24 hours a day, so I can do more work. I’m exhausted and don’t know how I will survive this harsh life with my family.”  

Moutaz Adham added: “An average income only covers half of basic expenses.” 


Notes to editors

  • Oxfam has been working in Syria since 2013 to provide humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict. In the last year, Oxfam’s work reached 1.2 million people. We provide clean drinking water to people, emergency cash assistance, and soap, hygiene, and other materials. We help farmers get back to farming, and bakers back to baking. We run Covid-19 awareness raising campaigns.  Oxfam is calling on international donors to focus on funding early recovery and social protection while also keep focusing on emergency needs and responses, including hunger response activities to save lives now.
  • 12.4 million people in Syria are food insecure, child labor occurs in 84% of communities, and child marriage for adolescent girls in 71% of communities, according to the latest figures from the Humanitarian Needs Overview.
  • The price of the World Food Program (WFP) standard food basket (a group of essential food items) has increased by 97% in the past year.   
  • Last year, the Syrian government reportedly had to import 1.5 million tons of wheat, mainly from Russia.  
  • As part of its Emergency and Food Security response, Oxfam interviewed 300 beneficiaries in government held areas of Aleppo, Deir-ez-Zor and Rural Damascus governorates, 100 beneficiaries in each governorate and found that 88 percent eat only bread, rice and occasionally vegetables. Additionally, 60 percent of people Oxfam spoke to say they earn less than what they need to cover their food needs. 10 percent said they rely only on bread and tea to survive. Since subsidized bread provides approximately 840 kcal per day, this amounts to only 40 percent of calories needed to survive (an average family of 5 can buy 12 bundles of subsidized bread, each consisting of 7 loaves, this leaves 2.4 loaves per person per day, having no more than 350 kcal). Strikingly, only 1.5 percent said they can afford to buy meat and only on rare occasions.    

11 years on, Syrian women are still focused on simply surviving

“I’m afraid I would wake up one day to find nothing to fill the stomachs of my little children” ~ Nesreen

Eleven years since the beginning of the conflict, Syrian women are still focused on simply surviving. People are stuck, or falling deeper into poverty.

Nesreen, a mother of four from rural Damascus, continues to live with the effects of the eleven-year conflict, with no end in sight. Every day is a struggle to survive, and like so many other Syrian women Oxfam works with, whether she can put enough food on the table to feed her family is a daily concern.

Since war broke out in the country, everything has changed for Nesreen and her family of six.

Nesreen, 39, lives with her family of six in Rural Damascus. Here she tends to her backyard garden to try support her family’s diet. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh

I remember one dark afternoon, six years ago, when the sounds of explosions started rising all around us. Moving to the nearest basement in the neighbourhood to hide with my little children was as risky as staying in our house. I thought, if we’re going to die today, then let it be right here, in our home. Nothing will ever erase those memories from my heart and mind.

Three years ago, life gradually returned to normal in Nesreen’s town.  For the first time in almost seven years her husband found work, the family started to fix the damage to their house and the children returned to school. However, their hopes that the conflict and its impacts were coming to an end were dashed.

Nesreen works on her sewing machine to earn money and support her household. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh

The massive repercussions of the pandemic coupled with the collapse of the Syrian pound and the spillover from the financial crisis in Lebanon has pushed more and more Syrians to the brink.

Skyrocketing prices of food and people’s inability to afford the most essential food items has meant women are reverting to extreme strategies to cope, such as reducing the number of meals each day, or being forced to buy cheaper, less nutritious food. 

This is the current reality for Nesreen and her family.

We have had to cut down on the types of food we buy as well as so many other needs like clothing. It might be safer now, but the economic situation is unbearable. I’m dying inside when my youngest daughter needs her medication and I can’t afford them.

Lubana, 65, from rural Damascus is a returnee. She lost her everything during war and now relies on aid to survive. Photo Credit: Oxfam


Our life revolves around farming. Before the war, we made a good income from our land. And we could afford a modest but comfortable life. When war broke out we had to flee our hometown and stayed away for almost five years. When we finally got the chance to return home, we found everything had gone. The past year has been extremely tough. We had to cut down on our expenses and reduce the size of our food portions. In these rough times, we can’t help but feel broken. Today, after eleven years of war, I still can’t see an ending to all our suffering. I hope one day my children will have a better life than the one I’m having.

Tahani, 42, from rural Aleppo, works on a farm to support her six children. Photo credit: Islam Mardini


When war broke out in Syria, I lost contact with my ex-husband. To this day, no one knows whether he’s still alive or dead. I was supporting our six little children by myself. As the war dragged on, we lost almost everything; our house, our crops, the modest life we once had. Staying in our town became too dangerous. We had to go and leave everything behind, moving from one town to another for five years.  

Three years ago, we returned home and all I could think of was how to start over. I thought I had survived the worst. I survived the conflict, I was forced to leave my home, and I lived through a bad divorce, but nothing is compared to how I’m living now with my children. This war turned our lives upside down and today, even after eleven years of war, I still cannot imagine leading a normal life again. I'm afraid one day soon we'll have nothing else to eat but herbs and leaves.

For thousands of families like Nesreen’s, Lubana's and Tahani's the situation is getting worse. The WFP recently found 12.4 million Syrians are going to sleep hungry, an increase of over three million people from 2020. Between 2019 and 2020, food insecurity increased a massive 42 percent. In the same year, 80 percent of Syrians were living below the poverty line.

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Life under lockdown - How Syrian refugees are protecting each other against Covid-19

"Some people thought flies could carry and transmit Covid-19 or that garlic, herbs and licorice-root tea could cure you of it… Others asked whether it was just the elderly who were at risk,” explains Aysha, a Syrian refugee at Za’atari Refugee Camp.

“There were so many rumours circulating a few weeks ago that it was hard to tell what was true and what wasn’t.”

As Covid-19 continues its relentless spread, refugees at Za’atari camp in Jordan are petrified at the thought of it hitting their community.

Photo: Adeline Guerra/Oxfam

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees like Aysha embarked on harrowing and dangerous journeys in search of safety. Almost ten years later, the  Za’atari Refugee Camp remains home to tens of thousands of people.

As the global Covid-19 pandemic continues its indiscriminate spread, proving no country or community is immune, researchers and experts continue to sound alarm bells about the devastation that could be unleashed if the virus spreads in refugee camps - places simply not built to weather a crisis of this nature.

Over the last few weeks, in an effort to protect against Covid-19, Oxfam’s programming adjusted - in an effort to ensure refugees are equipped as best as possible, Oxfam immediately kick-started online and offline hygiene awareness campaigns, community information sessions and a sophisticated phone tree network to disseminate messages and updates to as many people as possible.

“We’ve created a number of different chat groups on various platforms to spread awareness on the virus,” Aysha says.

“We stop rumours in their tracks, answer questions, listen to concerns and steer people in the right direction about everything from hand washing and hygiene to physical distancing. We also make sure that people only share material from reliable and valid sources.”

Aysha is one of hundreds of paid volunteers who are part of Oxfam’s Cash for Work programme designed to give refugees work opportunities, training, and a source of income.

The programme recognises and builds on existing skill-sets in a number of different areas that range from environmental caretakers and cleaners, community outreach workers, recycling workers and technical engineers. It was set up to fill a long-standing gap that made it difficult for refugees in the country – especially women – to access permits to work outside the camps.

As one of 18 community engagement workers trained to mobilise, engage and raise awareness throughout the Za’atari community, Aysha’s job these days is more important than ever.

Syrian refugee youth taking part in a hygiene awareness session co-organized by Oxfam/UNICEF well before any confirmed cases reportedly reached Jordan. Photo by: Nesma Alnsour

“We anticipated it eventually hitting here even though the virus still felt like it was far away, it seemed like only a matter of time", says Mohannad Abu Siam, Oxfam’s Senior Community Engagement Officer.

“We knew we needed an outreach strategy that could reach the most people in the least amount of time and we got to work immediately,” he says.

“We were on our phones, coordinating meetings, scribbling on white boards, organising phone trees, running community information seminars – including a partnership with UNICEF to run hygiene awareness sessions at schools and youth centres throughout the camp.”

Today, over 400 volunteers are part of a sophisticated messaging network that’s estimated to reach tens of thousands of refugees every day, cascading key updates, fielding questions and methodically tracking information that helps inform outreach material.

Oxfam’s Senior Community Engagement Officer, Mohannad Abu Siam leads one of many hygiene awareness sessions with students at Za'atari Refugee Camp. Photo by: Aisha Shtiwi

The nationwide curfew measures that have transformed the entire country have also changed life at Za’atari.

“Given how widespread the misinformation was about Covid-19, it’s rewarding to know I’m helping our community. The message to stay home was hard at first but given what the camp looks like these days, I think we got through,” Aysha says.

What was once a bustling five-square-kilometre refugee camp full of lively markets and street vendors, selling everything from wedding dresses to local cheese has since been transformed to a labyrinth of deserted streets, closed-up store fronts and an unfamiliar quiet has flooded the camp - no longer are the streets full of young and old making the best of unfortunate circumstances.

While she sits in her small caravan responding to community messages coming into her phone, Aysha’s two young children are glued to online classes.

“Students are now learning from home, meaning we get an additional ten hours of electricity during the day and then another two in the evening.”

Aysha describes the challenges of adjusting to these unprecedented times. Her frustration never articulated, but discernible in her voice.

“I lost my husband to the war. I’m the one that takes care of the kids, our home and the one that works. The most important thing to me is my kid’s education. So, I’m doing my best. I’m trying to help them with their homework, but this remote-learning system simply isn’t the same”, she says.

Despite it, she deliberately makes a point to express her gratitude.

“My work means everything to me, it’s not just a livelihood opportunity or just a job, it has given me a sense of purpose, ownership and agency. It’s so gratifying to be able to help raise awareness and connect with the community in these times of need.”

When asked how she feels about the future given the pandemic and the new normal that has become life under curfew, Aysha hangs onto a similar optimism.

“I think it’ll pass. It’ll pass, and we’ll soon be back to our normal lives where Za’atari’s streets will be buzzing once again the way they used to be. For now, I’m just glad that everyone is taking it seriously. I’m glad they’re following the curfew rules and staying home. And I’m so glad to help be a part of helping spread that message.

Ultimately, its precisely that that’s going to get us through this.”

Words by: Eiman Zarrug (based on an interview conducted by Aisha Shtiwi)

**This initiative would not be possible without the generous support and funding from the European Union (EU), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and UNICEF.

**Contents of this piece are the sole responsibility of Oxfam and don't necessarily represent views of the donors.


This disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. For the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, the worst is yet to come as the coronavirus begins to establish itself and spread quickly through communities powerless to stop it, without access to water, sanitation or healthcare.

Together, we can save lives.

Syria crisis anniversary: Stitching lives back together

This coming Sunday (March 15th) marks nine years since the start of the conflict in Syria. The crisis continues to cause tremendous human suffering to people both inside and outside the country.

Since the conflict started in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. Homes and schools have been destroyed, neighbourhoods lack clean running water and sanitation, and people lack the means of making a living to feed their families. 2 in 3 Syrians – over 13 million women, men, and children – continue to find themselves in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

woman refugee regains her livelihood
Asmaa, 40, a dressmaker, sits in her little shop in AlBwaidieh, a rural area in Deir Ez-Zor, Syria. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

No one ever thinks it'll happen to them...

Our work in Syria includes providing people with support to help make a living and grow food, such as the distribution of seeds and assets to farmers, cash for work programmes, and supporting women and men to gain new skills through training.

One of those who has benefited from our help is 40-year-old Asmaa, a dressmaker from al-Bwaidieh, in Syria rural Deir Ez-Zor district.

Asmaa said: “Before the war, I was known to friends, family and customers as an incredibly talented dressmaker. I built myself a career to the beat of the needle and the bob, and my designs made for an excellent source of income for me and my family. I even had my own shop where I would work the day away.

“But all that changed seven years ago when my town of al-Bwaidieh, in rural Deir ez-Zor, was sucked into the violence. We had to leave and couldn’t carry much. I hid my most prized possession, my sewing machine, beneath a bundle of hay and even said a little prayer that it might be there when I returned – if I returned that is.

“We headed for Qamishli in north eastern Syria for safety. There, we lived through what would become our worst days. For nearly four years we worked random jobs, none of which were sustainable or provided enough to keep us from having to rely on others to make it through this war. It was a struggle; a real struggle for me, my brother and my mother.

“Oh, how I wished I had my sewing tools on me so that my family and I could live in dignity. You see, no one ever thinks it’ll happen to them until it does. Humans, we think we are immune… to war, violence, displacement. But it could happen to anyone, and it happened to us.”

Now it's all about survival

Asmaa continued: “Our entire lives have changed; taken a turn for the worse. We spent all our savings, sold our jewellery and whatever else we had just to survive.

“We returned to our home only recently, and the first thing I did was look for my sewing machine. And there she was, waiting for me in the same place I had left her.

“Strange how sometimes the smallest things become so dear to us. Such is life when you are living in a warzone: a sewing machine becomes so much more than just a tool; it is a means to an independent life, to self-sufficiency.

“Now, we are stitching back together the pieces of our lives. I still long for the old days, when I first started my career. Back then, people wanted the finest garments in town; now it’s all about survival.”

What we are doing - with your support

In Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, we are helping more than 1.5 million people with life-saving clean water, sanitation, essential clothing items, cash and vital food aid, supporting people to grow nutritious food, protecting them from violence and abuse, as well as helping refugees make a living.