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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Clean water transforms a shelter for displaced Syrian families

By Yasmine Saker

As Syrians continue to flee conflict for the safety of communal shelters, improving water and sanitation facilities becomes ever more challenging and more urgent.

LATAKIA/TARTOUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 22 July 2015 – Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, hundreds of thousands of families have sought refuge in the relatively safer coastal cities. As fighting escalates in northern Syria, still more people have fled conflict in Idleb, Aleppo and rural Latakia to seek refuge in the city of Latakia. 

© Al Bustan/2015
Volunteers from NGO Al Bustan distribute UNICEF family hygiene kits at Sports City in Latakia, where 6,500 Syrians displaced by conflict have taken shelter.

While the majority have settled among host communities, an additional seven temporary collective shelters have been established to care for those who have nowhere else to go.

In response to this influx of displaced families into Latakia, the country’s principal port city, UNICEF has helped to rehabilitate Sports City, an athletic complex now sheltering the largest number of displaced families in the governorate. Of the more than 10,000 people living in these shelters, 6,500 of them reside in Sports City.

Beyond capacity

“Temporary collective shelters are old schools and public buildings turned into shelters,” says Mazen Issa, UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Officer in the Syrian Arab Republic. “They are in no way designed to accommodate large numbers of people on a long-term basis.”

Mr. Issa says that with so many people living in close quarters, additional hygiene measures are required to prevent the spread of disease.

“Water supply and sanitation facilities were under severe pressure to serve huge numbers of people, beyond their operational capacity, and hygiene conditions have suffered as a result,” he explains.

A study conducted by non-governmental organization Al-Bustan, UNICEF’s partner in Latakia, demonstrates the need for additional education on hygiene awareness.

Therefore, the rehabilitation of Sports City has included not only repairing the complex’s water and sanitation facilities, but also promoting hygiene awareness among shelter residents.

A big difference

Dalal, 38, a mother of six, has sought refuge in Sports City for a second time. The first time was when she moved from Aleppo in 2013. But after later settling in Idleb for almost a year, the worsening security situation forced her back to Sports City a month ago. 

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2015/Issa
A group of friends pose happily after taking showers in the newly rehabilitated WASH facilities in Sports City.

“I’ve been displaced twice now, and I was dreading the second time even more because of how bad the situation was in Sports City,” she says. “We had no bathrooms or clean water, the city was so dirty, and everyone was sick. There’s no comparison to how it is now. It’s actually clean and we have enough toilets and showers.”

In addition, UNICEF and Al-Bustan regularly distribute family and child hygiene kits, cleaning tools, soap and shampoo.

“I wash my hands, brush my teeth, comb my hair and become all clean,” sings 6-year-old Ghina, carrying plastic garbage bags and washing powder while running back to her mother. “I never got lice,” she adds with a grin.

Like most children in the shelter, Ghina has been attending awareness sessions on staying healthy, which include puppet shows, storytelling and painting sessions. There are also lectures and presentations for adults on the prevention of communicable diseases.

UNICEF and its local partners are expanding their efforts to refurbish all seven shelters in Latakia and to keep children safe from water-borne diseases.

Sports City, which also has a well-equipped medical facility and 12 prefabricated classrooms, is a small success story amidst an immensely challenging situation, and it demonstrates the difference an investment in infrastructure can make in a child's life. 



Report: Small hands, heavy burden


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