Soaring summer temperatures, overcrowding and worsening hygiene are among the latest threats facing Syrian children, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Friday, stressing the need to provide sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene to some four million young people affected by the ongoing conflict.
“Without enough safe water and sanitation, the likelihood that children in Syria and those living as refugees around the region will fall sick with diarrhoea and other diseases is certain to rise,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
In Syria, the availability of safe water is one third what it was before the crisis. Many of the civilians displaced by the conflict live in overcrowded shelters with insufficient access to toilets and showers. Sewage systems are damaged or overwhelmed by the increase in displaced populations, the agency stated in a news release. Without enough safe water and sanitation, the likelihood that children in Syria and those living as refugees around the region will fall sick with diarrhoea and other diseases is certain to rise.
In refugee camps like Domiz in Iraq – expanded to accommodate around 25,000 people but now hosting almost twice that number – conditions are just as severe. In Jordan’s Za’atari camp, aid agencies are struggling to meet the needs of what is now the world’s second biggest refugee camp, housing at least 120,000 people.
In Lebanon, more than half a million refugees are scattered in host communities and in informal tented settlements, placing increased pressure on existing water and sanitation services. Multiple families often share small apartments or live in makeshift settlements that lack access to safe water, basic toilets and waste collection. Women and children often have to walk long distances to collect water that in many cases may be unfit for drinking, UNICEF noted.
There are some 6.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the fighting between the Syrian army and opposition forces seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad. The crisis, which began in March 2011, has claimed more than 93,000 lives and sent some 1.5 million people fleeing to neighbouring countries for safety.
As the escalating conflict triggers larger population movements, UNICEF has accelerated efforts to provide sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services, reaching almost nine million people since the beginning of the year.
The agency warns, however, that funding constraints remain an issue. “Providing water, sanitation and hygiene services to those affected by this crisis is our most costly operation – but one of the least funded,” Ms. Calivis said.
UNICEF needs more than $200 million for its water, sanitation and hygiene programmes in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq until the end of the year. Nearly half way through the year, it remains $124 million short of this target.