NEW YORK (February 8, 2013) — Syrian children are at increased risk of disease because of severe disruption to 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 1/3 of pre-crisis levels. Many people in such areas have only six gallons of water a day, compared with 19 gallons 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, eastern Syria, an area where violence was particularly severe, water is being pumped at just 10% 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 264,000 gallons 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. “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,” Abdel-Jelil said.
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 $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% before the crisis to 35% now. Collection and safe disposal of domestic waste is also highly disrupted. Access to 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 because of rationed access to water—often less than 10 quarts per person per day.
To date, UNICEF 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% are children.
To respond to the growing needs for water and sanitation, UNICEF is appealing for $22.5 million as part of a Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan launched in December 2012. Through June, the agency aims to provide safe 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% funding gap for programs in water and sanitation.
“We are doing everything possible to scale up our reach and ensure safe water and sanitation are available to more people,” said Abdel-Jelil. “The lack of funds is a major constraint.”
How to help: For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution to UNICEF’s relief efforts, please contact the U.S. Fund for UNICEF:
Toll free: 1-800-FOR-KIDS
Mail: 125 Maiden Lane, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10038
As with any emergency, in the event that donations exceed anticipated needs, the U.S. Fund will redirect any excess funds to children in greatest need.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when ZERO children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.