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Press release

Severe water shortages compound the misery of millions in war-torn Syria - says UNICEF

© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-3061/Rashidi
A young boy carries a jerrycan he just filled at a water tank built by UNICEF in the Tishreen camp for displaced persons in Aleppo, Syria.

AMMAN, Jordan, 25 August 2015- Amid the unremitting brutality of the war in Syria and a scorching summer heat wave, there is increasing evidence that parties to the conflict are using water to achieve military and political gains.

In recent months, up to five million people living in cities and communities across the country have suffered the consequences of long and sometimes deliberate interruptions to their water supplies.

In the northern city of Aleppo, where fighting has crippled the main pumping station for months at a time, UNICEF has recorded 18 deliberate water cuts this year alone. Taps in some communities were left dry for up to 17 days in a row - and for over a month in some areas of the city.

With no water at home, children often take on the task of collecting water from street standpipes and collection points. One UNICEF engineer tells of a little girl he met who had stood in line for hours to fill two small water containers, only to realise that they were too heavy for her to carry. “She just burst into tears,” he recalled.

“Clean water is both a basic need and a fundamental right, in Syria as it is anywhere else,” said Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Denying civilians access to water is a flagrant violation of the laws of war and must end.”

The unpredictability of warfare can make the process of fetching water dangerous, and even lethal. In recent weeks, conflict cost the lives of at least three children while they were out collecting water in Aleppo. 

Water shortages bring other consequences as well: families in Damascus, Dera’a, Aleppo and other areas have to rely on dirty water from unregulated and unprotected groundwater sources, exposing children in particular to the risk of contracting diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, and other diseases. In recent weeks, water prices have increased in Aleppo by up to 3,000%, at a time when families are finding it harder than ever to make ends meet.

Syria’s water crisis has deepened along with the conflict; water availability is about half what it was before the crisis began in 2011.  Ongoing violence and heavy clashes have caused severe damage to pipelines and other water infrastructure, and municipal workers are often unable to carry out the necessary repairs.
Frequent power cuts make it hard for technicians and engineers to pump water to civilians. Some areas receive only one hour of electricity a day and cuts lasting up to four days are reported. The misery is particularly acute for millions of displaced families who have to share limited water supplies in over-crowded shelters.

To add to the suffering, Syria -- like much of the region -- has been wilting under a heat wave said to be the harshest in decades. Temperatures in Aleppo have soared to above 40 degrees Celsius in recent weeks.

UNICEF is calling on parties to the conflict to take urgent steps to avert further suffering of civilians in Syria. 

  • In line with International Humanitarian Law, immediately halt water cuts and all actions that interrupt public water supplies;
  • End all attacks on water facilities, treatment systems, pipelines and infrastructure. 
  • Protect the safety of water engineers and other personnel who repair water supply installations.
  • Refrain from attacking civilians at water standpipes and other collection points.


Note to Editors

On Syria:

  • UNICEF estimates that up to five million people are impacted by water shortages including in Aleppo (2.3 million), Damascus (2.5 million) and Dera’a (250,000)
  • UNICEF’s ongoing support to the water sector in Syria includes: 
     - Water trucking for 500,000 people including 400,000 in Aleppo
     - Rehabilitation of 94 wells, providing water to 470,000 people
     - Delivery of 300,000 litres of fuel to support public water distribution in Aleppo and Damascus.
     - Distribution of hygiene items and hygiene promotion material to over 660,000 people.
  • UNICEF has a funding gap of 40 million US$ for its work in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene inside Syria. It urgently needs 20 million US$ to respond to needs in Aleppo and Damascus.

World Water Week

  • August 23-28 is World Water Week. Around the world, UNICEF estimates that the total number of people without access to improved drinking water is 663 million, or roughly 9% of the global population. Of those, 159 million relies on surface water – from rivers, ponds, lakes, and other sources likely to be contaminated.
  • Most of the population without access to safe drinking water live in rural areas. Approximately 8 out of 10 people without improved water, and 9 out of 10 people still drinking surface water live in rural areas.
  • Some 2.6 billion people have gained access to an improved drinking water source since 1990, meeting and surpassing the Millennium Development Goal five years early. However the United Nations has recognized safe drinking water as a fundamental human right, meaning every single person should have access.

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. 

For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org 

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For further information, please contact:
Juliette Touma, UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa, jtouma@unicef.org, +962-79-867-4628
Rose Foley, UNICEF New York, rfoley@unicef.org, +1 917 340 2582





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