Running dry: Water and sanitation crisis threatens Syrian children [EN/AR]


Water, hygiene and sanitation severely disrupted by conflict in Syria, says UNICEF

DAMASCUS/AMMAN, 8 February 2013 – Syrian children are at increased risk of disease because of the severe disruption of services, damage done to water and sanitation systems and a lack of access to basic hygiene during the nearly two-year conflict, UNICEF said today.

A UNICEF-led nationwide assessment – the first covering the water and sanitation sector since fighting began – reveals that in areas affected by conflict water supplies are only available at one-third of pre-crisis levels. Many people in such areas have only 25 litres of water a day, compared with 75 litres two years ago.

The assessment, carried out in cooperation with municipal water departments and local private contractors, identifies six most at-risk areas – Rural Damascus, Idlib, Der Ez-Zor, Homs, Aleppo and al-Raqqa – where people’s ability to access safe water has been most severely restricted.

For example in Der Ez-Zor in eastern Syria, an area where violence was particularly severe, water is being pumped at just 10 per cent of pre-crisis levels.

“These results underline why UNICEF has prioritized assistance to the water and sanitation sector,” said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Representative in Syria. “This month we began an operation to ship 1 million litres of chlorine to provide safe water for more than 10 million people, or nearly half the national population, for three months.”

National production of water treatment chemicals almost ceased because of conflict, increasing the risk that tap water is contaminated, he said. “We still need to do much more to reach all those who need help in order to avoid the risk of water-borne diseases spreading,” he added.

Power cuts, fuel shortages, lack of maintenance due to insecurity and damage to infrastructure are the main reasons behind the worsening water shortages. In areas where power supplies are most disrupted, generators are often used, but this is complicated by a lack of fuel and spare parts.

Families increasingly rely on buying water supplied by mobile tankers to communities. A family of seven has to spend at least US$15 every 15 days on water. This is more than many vulnerable families can afford. In addition, tankers often supply water of poor or unknown quality and in limited quantities.

The assessment found that in affected towns, children and women are exposed to environmental health risks as the treatment of sewage water has decreased by half – from 70 per cent before the crisis to 35 per cent now. Collection and safe disposal of domestic waste is also highly disrupted. Access to basic water, toilets and soap in schools and health facilities is very poor.

The situation is of most concern for displaced people living in collective shelters, especially in 1,500 schools where they took refuge. Living conditions are often unsanitary due to the lack of toilets, showers, hygiene items such as soap, and rationed access to water – often less than 10 litres per person per day.

UNICEF to date has provided more than 22,000 emergency-affected people with drinking and domestic water. Soap and hygiene kits have been given to some 225,000 people in conflict-affected areas. UNICEF estimates that out of 4 million people in need, 50 per cent are children.

To respond to the growing needs for water and sanitation, UNICEF is appealing for US$22.5 million as part of a Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan launched in December 2012. Through June, the agency aims to provide safe drinking and domestic water, soap and hygiene kits, as well as toilets and bathrooms to 750,000 people.

UNICEF also plans to give 50,000 children water and sanitation facilities at schools and in child-friendly and temporary learning spaces, and to repair and rehabilitate community-based water systems. Currently, UNICEF has an 80 per cent funding gap in the water and sanitation areas.

“We are doing everything possible to scale up our reach and ensure safe water and sanitation are available to more people,” said Mr. Abdel-Jelil. “The lack of funds is a major constraint.”

UNICEF is one of a number of international humanitarian organizations working in the water, Sanitation and hygiene sector in Syria.

Simon Ingram, UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa, Tel. +962-79-590-4740,

Juliette Touma, UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa, Tel. +962-79-867-4628,