Humanitarian aid to Syria must target water authorities’ maintenance and disinfection needs, as both the regime and opposition forces are failing to respond to the country’s escalating food and water crisis.
Syria’s essential services are on the brink of collapse under the burden of continuous assault on critical water infrastructure. The stranglehold of extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), neglect by the regime, and an eighth summer of drought may combine to create a water and food crisis which would escalate fatalities and migration rates in the country’s ongoing three-year conflict.
The capability of state agencies to respond to water, food and shelter crises is diminishing. The warning signs are clear for what could result in a far worse refugee crisis than the conflict has produced to date. The UN, neighbouring countries and the wider international community have a responsibility to collaborate in the next few months, in order to limit the extent of human suffering.
Water as a weapon
The deliberate targeting of water supply networks and related structures is now a daily occurrence in the conflict. The water pumping station in Al-Khafsah, Aleppo stopped working on 10 May, cutting off water supply to half of the city. It is unclear who was responsible; both the regime and opposition forces blame each other, but unsurprisingly in a city home to almost three million people the incident caused panic and chaos. Some people even resorted to drinking from puddles in the streets.
Attacks and counter-attacks have destroyed several waste water treatment and sewage facilities in the country. Damage to the sewage system in Aleppo, for example, has resulted in the contamination of drinking water. Warnings to citizens to boil all tap water were issued in the city this month. But, with the rising prices of black-market fuel, boiled water is itself a luxury that most of the besieged population cannot afford. Disinfection of the water supply system now needs a two-day fresh water flush, during which time the water supply would be inaccessible – making it a an unpalatable action, given the current water shortage.
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