The United Nations has warned that a full-scale war in the province of Idlib in north-western Syria could turn into the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the 21st century, because many thousands of the three million inhabitants of this region could be killed.
According to the UN, many civilians were already killed in the air and ground strikes by the Syrian army and its Russian allies last week, and more than 30,000 people were forced to abandon their homes.
Nearly half of Idlib’s three million inhabitants are migrants from other regions of Syria. They were forced to remain in the province, because they had nowhere else to go.
Jens Lark, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that it is clear from negotiations that the Syrian government intends to regain control of this final rebel stronghold, and insists on a military solution.
This is a frightening prospect, Lark says: “We think that this could turn into the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, because it appears that a full-scale military operation is coming. It’s a terrible situation. It’s a race for time. It’s a race in which we are trying to prepare for the worst case scenario, while simultaneously trying to avoid this scenario”.
According to Lark, humanitarian organizations are stockpiling foodstuff, medicine and other necessities in preparation for an offensive on Idlib. The situation is aggravated by the fact that less than a week ago, airstrikes were directed against four hospitals in the region, limiting access to medical assistance at a critical moment when it will be urgently needed.