9 years of conflict: 15.5 million Syrians lack clean water

Nearly a decade after the devastating conflict began in Syria, millions of people have been displaced and still more are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. One of Action Against Hunger’s top priorities is to meet the immense need for access to clean water, safe sanitation, and healthy hygiene.

Throughout the country, 15.5 million Syrians lack adequate access to clean water. Northeastern Syria is the area most affected by the water crisis: 27% of households spend as much as one-fifth of their income on water from tankers. That’s why our teams have focused on restoring water access points and installing water pumps, latrines, and water tanks, reaching more than 2.9 million people last year.

“Despite the humanitarian community’s efforts to meet the urgent needs of the population, 13.1 million people are still in need of humanitarian aid - 5.6 million of whom are in acute need because of displacement, conflict, and lack of access to essential goods and services,” explains Chiara Saccardi, desk officer for Action Against Hunger’s programs in Syria and the Middle East region.

“Open conflict has continued for nearly a decade. According to the United Nations, 1.4 million refugees have returned to Syria and nearly half a million people migrated within Syria in January alone. These population movements underscore the need to ensure people can return to a healthy life.”

“In total, more than six million people are internally displaced in Syria. Covering their essential needs and restoring infrastructure and services are the first steps towards reducing violence in the country and achieving lasting improvements,” says Saccardi.

Immense and Immediate Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Needs

Escalating conflict in recent months has forced further displacements: nearly one million additional Syrians have been displaced within Syria’s borders since last December. Increased internal displacement puts added pressure on existing water sources, while conflict continues to destroy infrastructure and cut off access to clean water.

Contamination of water sources, caused by deteriorating infrastructure and wastewater flooding, directly and deeply affects the health of Syria’s citizens. In the country’s northwest, there are higher numbers of displacement camps and settlement communities who share community latrines that do not meet minimum humanitarian standards. Many of these latrines are not segregated by gender, which can expose women to additional security risks.

Inflated prices and exchange rates make clean water expensive and out of reach for the poorest families. In some towns, such as Deir-ez-Zor, Daraa, or Idlib, families spend an average of 25% of their income on safe water sourced from water tanks. Additionally, according to a survey of 24,000 people by Action Against Hunger in 2018, 11% of Syrian households do not have access to all hygiene items needed.

"I used to carry my [water] drums on my head and walk a long distance to bring water for my family," says a 52-year-old woman from the western district of Sabqa. Woman often take on the extra burden of finding ways to provide water to their families. "After returning home in 2017 we found it empty, without electricity or water. We depended on buying water from trucks every three days, which cost around 8,000 SYP (about $15) per month. It was difficult to manage our expenses because with my husband's salary it is not enough to cover the needs of the family, so we restrict our food expenses to save some money to buy water in trucks."

Action Against Hunger’s Priorities in Syria

Action Against Hunger has worked in Syria since 2008, and our teams focus on meeting water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) needs. From our operational bases in Aleppo, Damascus and Al-Hasakah, we manage 29 projects to increase access to water, sanitation and hygiene in seven provinces, to rehabilitate and improve shelters, and to build capacity in rural areas.

For example, in the town of Salim in southern Syria, public infrastructure does not sufficiently supply all inhabitants with clean water. Action Against Hunger installed solar systems to provide enough energy to pump water into the pipe system and provide water to many more homes.

"Working to facilitate access to water, sanitation and hygiene is one of the central elements of our emergency response in Syria. We do everything we can to prevent the risks of water-borne diseases," says Paul Alcalde, who oversees WASH programming. "Lack of sanitation and lack of means for basic hygiene practices is not only about meeting immediate needs and basic rights, but it matters for dignity.”

In addition to our WASH programs, our teams in Syria also work to help people recover their livelihoods, to repair of basic infrastructure, to provide provision health and nutrition support, and to restore sustainable and regulated services for Syrian citizens.

Action Against Hunger urges that rehabilitation of destroyed water networks be a top priority for international donors. More funding is needed to ensure that water distribution ceases to be carried out by trucks, as this is not a sustainable solution. Additionally, it is urgent to address reconstruction as soon as possible to provide decent and lasting opportunities for livelihoods and the safe return of displaced people.