Syria’s children at risk from water scarcity and illness amid ongoing conflict: UNICEF 

Caption to come.  Photographer's caption: not fact-checked.boy drinks the last drops of water in his jerry can while he queues with other children. ©UNICEF/Syria-2014/KhabiehAmid rising water scarcity in wartorn Syria, children take on the task of bringing supplies home
By: Razan Rashidi

Douma, Rural Damascus, 06 August 2014, “I hate the queuing part more than the carrying part,” says seven-year-old Amani, as she stands in a long line waiting her turn to fill her orange jerrycan with water.

Her 12 years-old cousin, Ahmad, interrupts the conversation: “What annoys me the most is that sometimes she can carry cans heavier than mine,” he smiles, trying to tease her.

The on-going crisis in Syria has made it harder for millions of people across the country to find safe water. Many communities have lost access to water supplies for protracted periods.

In Douma, a town 10 km outside Damascus that hosts large numbers of internally displaced families, children are taking on the task of carrying drinking water for their families.

The town, with a population of 50,000, has been under a tight blockade for almost a year.

Across Rural Damascus, water supply is today just 40 percent what it was before the war. To help fill the gap, local community wells have become the major source of clean water for thousands of civilians.

“Providing safe drinking water to our people is our major challenge,” said Abu Haitham, a local council official in the town of Moadamieh. “We have urged aid agencies to prioritize provision of chlorine for cleaning water and generators to pump water from wells”.

During 2013, UNICEF, in partnership with ICRC, supplied enough chlorine to provide 10 million people with access to safe water in different parts of Syria.

“Hard to reach areas remain the biggest challenge in terms of ensuring people have enough clean water,” says Ahmedou Ould Sidi Ould Bahah, who oversees UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programmes in Syria.

A combination of soaring mid-summer temperatures and the massively depleted supply of clean water have greatly increased the risk of water-borne diseases, particularly among young children.

Ilham, a mother of five who survived a year of siege in Moadamieh, says her 3 years old toddler has been suffering from diarrhea for more than a month. “She is weak and there is no fuel to boil water, what can I do to help her? Simply nothing.”

Dr. Majed Abu Ali, a doctor working in the Unified Relief Medical Council in Eastern Ghouta, the coordinating body for relief and assistance in the area, has been documenting diarrhea cases among children.

“Thousands of cases of diarrhea and intestinal infections were reported among children for various reasons, including the lack of food, water and hygiene as a result of the blockade”, he noted.

According to the Ministry of Water Resources, essential water infrastructure across the country has been severely degraded by the ongoing conflict. Around half of water supply and sanitation systems are damaged or not fully functional.

In many cases, children have to walk for miles to reach the nearest water supply point. On the other hand, for some of them, it is an opportunity to leave the house and play, especially in areas where most children have no other opportunities of recreational activities.

July 14, Damascus: Syrian children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to water borne illnesses amid peaking summer temperatures and dwindling supplies of safe water, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned.

“The situation is alarming particularly for children who are susceptible to water borne diseases,” Hanaa Singer, UNICEF’s Representative in Syria reported in a press release. “With the crisis now in its fifth year, water has become even more scarce and unsafe, and poor hygiene conditions especially among the displaced communities are putting more children at severe risk.”

Since the beginning of 2015, said the UN agency, Syria has reported 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea while also registering a sharp increase of Hepatitis A cases.

The situation is particularly dramatic in Deir-Ez-Zour, a city not far from Syria‘s border with Iraq, where raw sewage has reportedly contaminated the Euphrates River from which the local population receives its water. As a result, UNICEF added, some 1,144 of typhoid cases have been reported.

“Since the beginning of the crisis, we’ve been working with a range of partners to support the vital water infrastructure on which some 15 million people in Syria depend,” Ms. Singer continued. “This includes drilling and equipping wells as alternative sources of water as well as supporting the local production and procurement of water treatment supplies.”

The conditions in Syria have steadily been deteriorating since the outbreak of the country’s conflict in March 2011.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has cautioned that some 12 million people in the Middle Eastern country today remain in need of humanitarian assistance – a twelve-fold increase since 2011. 7.6 million people have been displaced by the conflict and another 4.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in hard to reach and besieged locations.

The humanitarian impact of the crisis is only further compounded by funding shortfalls which has seen wholesale cuts to the UN’s delivery of humanitarian aid – from food assistance to lifesaving health services.

The Oslo Times/UN press release

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