Cholera fears rise in Syria’s Idlib after water supplies cut off

Residents of more than 40 towns in northwest Syria face the risk of cholera and other diseases after an NGO-run water project has been shut down.

Water pumps provided by Gol, the international humanitarian response agency, were switched off in late October, leaving 12 refugee camps and 42 towns and villages in Idlib province without water.

While some residents were able to purchase water supplies, the majority had to go without, officials say.

Armanaz City Council Director Firas Danoun said Gol had informed them five months in advance that the project would have to be closed if a donor could not be found.

“We in the local council cannot get water for the population without the support of charities,” he said.

The mission, which also provides food aid as part of humanitarian aid in northern Syria, “supported four water units in Idlib province to help provide regular clean water to a catchment population of more than one million people” in more than 100 communities, its website said.

The Karama camp is home to some of the more than two million displaced Syrians in Idlib province.  AP

Public services in northwestern Syria were severely affected by the civil war in 2011. The largely opposition-held region is home to millions of people displaced by the conflict, many of whom live in camps.

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Mr Danoun said water shortages could make people sick by neglecting hygiene and safety precautions – fears echoed by Hussam Qara Muhammad, deputy director of the Idlib Health Directorate.

“People are forced to look for alternative sources of water, which can be unhealthy and inaccurate, and which can lead to the spread of water-borne infections, which belong to a group of diseases,” said Dr Muhammad. National.

“Chief among them is the cholera that is currently plaguing the region.”

He said personal hygiene would also suffer and skin diseases like scabies and lice would increase in addition to the spread of Covid infections.

Ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacteria Vibrio cholerae can lead to cholera, a gastrointestinal disease that can lead to death in severe cases if left untreated.

More than 17,400 cases of cholera have been reported in Idlib and Aleppo governorates since August, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Twelve people died.

Both the country’s health ministry and the UN believe the source of the outbreak is linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops.

Khalid Al Othman, who lived in a camp in western Idlib after fleeing his home in neighboring Aleppo province, said residents were living in fear after cholera cases were discovered in the area.

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A sewage pool at a camp for internally displaced people in the town of Sarmada in Syria's northwestern Idlib province.  AFP

“People have started going for tests to make sure there is no infection, especially the elderly. There are concerns about sewage spreading between the tents and some vegetables being watered with sewage,” said Mr Al Othman. National.

“I saw one of the displaced persons here in the camp after contracting cholera: he did not leave his tent for about 12 days because of pain, shortness of breath and body aches.

“This prompted us to take more preventive measures, but the health conditions in the camps were not adequate.”

Fears are also being expressed that the displaced people in the camps will have to be moved again due to lack of water.

According to the latest figures from the Response Co-ordinators Group in Northern Syria, some 2.1 million of the more than four million people living in opposition-held areas have been displaced.

After the stoppage of support to this station, people are finding it difficult to buy water and most of the camp residents do not have the financial ability to buy water through tankers.

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Nizar Abu Ammar, director of the Al Qaziya camp in Idlib

Nizar Abu Ammar, director of Al Kaziya camp near Armanaz, said residents were suffering after an NGO-supported water station was closed.

“After support for this station was stopped, people are having difficulty collecting water and many camp residents do not have the financial capacity to buy water through tankers,” said Mr. Abu Ammar.

Many displaced families have no income and rely on savings. Those who can find jobs earn daily wages between 30 and 50 Turkish lira – the currency adopted in the opposition-held region since 2020. A 5,000-liter tanker that costs 120 lira ($6.40) is unaffordable for most people.

“There are 75 families living in Al Qaziya camp and these families, after the interruption of water pumping support, now have to travel 2 km to meet their water needs, if they can afford it,” Mr Abu Ammar said.

“Some of the residents of the camp used to rely on transporting water by motorcycle, but after petrol was cut off in the Idlib area, they could only transport water by walking long distances. Note that each family needs at least 500 liters of water per day.

Syrian agriculture at risk from low water levels in the Euphrates River – in pictures

Updated: January 03, 2023, 2:00 AM


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