In Syria, unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene facilities kill more than 85,000 children each year. In contrast, the war kills approximately 30,000 annually. Without clean water, young children, specifically 5-year-olds and younger, are left vulnerable to malnutrition and preventable diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, cholera and polio. Syrian families forced to flee due to the war are at a greater risk of contracting deadly illnesses. Here are 7 facts about sanitation in Syria.
7 Facts About Sanitation in Syria
- Damaged Infrastructure: The devastating use of explosives during the war in Syria has left basic infrastructure damaged beyond repair. In 2018, 50% were non-operational and more than 35,000 buildings were turned to rubble. As a result, the lack of access to clean water has become a growing problem.
- Water Mismanagement: Water researcher, Francesca de Châtel, believes Syria has mismanaged its water supply for 50 years. De Châtel says Syria has focused too much on large scale agriculture projects that have dried up rivers and wells. A lack of sufficient water has caused farmers to abandon their land and look for work elsewhere. This mismanagement also has nationwide impacts due to the amount of water waste.
- Risky Childbirth: Pregnant women are among one in every three families that are displaced from Syria. Often, they have little to no medical care because nearly 46% of health facilities are no longer functional and 167 are totally demolished. This has forced many pregnant women to give birth outside, under trees. They do not have a safe or sanitary place to deliver, which heightens the risk of delivering a unhealthy baby.
- Risk of Violence for Girls: While it may seem like an unusual correlation, lack of access to water in the home can put young girls and women at risk of violence. Since most households do not have clean sanitation facilities, girls and women venture out and travel miles to gather water. During their travels, they are vulnerable to violence, both physical or sexual. In fact, during the summer of 2015, the Syrian city of Aleppo faced a major water crisis and three children were killed while trying to collect water for their families.
- Contamination: Damaged infrastructure and the flooding of wastewater have contaminated water sources. In the northwest part of the nation, there is a high number of camps where displaced citizens have gathered. Here, these communities share latrines that do not meet the minimum humanitarian standards and are not segregated by gender, which can aggravate contamination. Paul Alcalde, who oversees water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programming believes, “Lack of sanitation and lack of means for basic hygiene practices is not only about meeting immediate needs and basic rights, but it matters for dignity.”
- Cost: Prices and exchange rates have made water too expensive and out of reach for the poorest families. Some families spend up to 25% of their annual income alone on access to clean water derived from water tanks.
- Overcrowding: Many shelters throughout Syria and the surrounding countries, which hold the two million citizens that have become displaced, are not meeting the water or hygienic needs of the refugees. These living conditions are unsanitary due to a small number of showers and toilets as well as a lack of products like soap. Water is also rationed, and people are often allowed less than 10 quarts a day. Some shelters have been accommodated to hold around 25,000 refugees but will overcrowd and house twice the amount.
The Good News
Although Syrians, displaced or not, are still facing a sanitation and hygiene crisis, many organizations around the world have been doing their part to help.
UNICEF, the leader of the Water and Sanitation sector, has provided some relief to the people of Syria. Since 2011, UNICEF has provided 22,000 people with drinking and domestic water, 225,000 people have received soap and other hygiene products and 17,000 people have gained access to toilets and sanitation facilities. Nine years later, UNICEF concluded its first phase of WASH by completely restoring major water and sewage pipelines. In turn, 700,000 people have more and cleaner water instead of contaminated sources.
Another organization that has provided major support is World Vision. Its efforts have included installing 10 water tanks in a refugee camp in Azraq, 5,200 WASH structures above and below ground such as toilets and sewage pits and constructing 35 tap stands that are connected to water tanks underground.
While Syria continues to grapple with war and violence, it must not forget to also address sanitation. With continued help from organizations like UNICEF and World Vision, hopefully sanitation in Syria will improve.
– Stacey Krzych