Toronto, 20 September 2022 – Thousands of children across eastern and northern Syria are at risk from a rapidly spreading outbreak of cholera caused by water shortages linked to climate change and conflict and the use of contaminated water from the Euphrates River, Save the Children said today.
At least 24 people have died from the water-borne disease and several thousand suspected cases have been reported across the country as of 19 September[i]. The outbreak coincides with the return to school for many children in Syria this month, putting both children’s health and education at risk.
It is Syria’s first major outbreak of the disease in over a decade and it is spreading. The first case was confirmed in the opposition-held town of Jarablous in northern Syria yesterday. Before this, North and North West Syria had not reported any cases in this outbreak, indicating that the potential for cases in other locations remains high.
The current outbreak is understood to be caused by communities drinking infected water and food irrigated by the Euphrates River, which is experiencing historic low levels of flow mainly due to Syria’s worst drought in decades.
In addition, sewage from communities located along the river bank largely ends up in the Euphrates River, increasing the possibility for illness and disease to spread. Nearly half of the people in Syria rely on often unsafe water sources to meet or complement their daily water needs[ii].
Save the Children is warning that the spread of cholera is expected to continue in coming days and weeks due to the severe water shortages[iii], millions of people’s reliance on the Euphrates River for their drinking water[iv], strained health and water systems in the country that is incapable of handling a wide-spread outbreak[v], and lack of access to hygiene items as a result of economic hardship[vi].
Beat Rohr, Save the Children’s Interim Country Director said:
‘’We are looking at a major outbreak if we do not act now, an outbreak which is already exacerbating the protection needs of children across Syria, adding to their suffering. Children who have family adult members and caregivers getting sick and the family’s income disrupted are particularly vulnerable. Further disruption to children’s education is another concern in this crisis, adding even more challenges for children in Syria to continue their learning.”
Save the Children is calling on donors to mobilize additional funding to address the outbreak and limit its impact on children, while preparing for an increase in humanitarian needs across the country. In addition to that, the outbreak signals the need of a shift in focus towards early recovery and restoration of basic services, including water and sanitation. More structural support will help communities to absorb and recover from the impact of conflict in a more sustainable manner.
Notes to the editors
- Save the Children has initiated an inclusive response including chlorination of stored water along with training on quality control and cleaning of sanitary facilities. Hygiene kits distribution to affected population as well as cleaning kits to health facilities. Hygiene promotion will be a key intervention aimed towards breaking transmission routes.
- Save the Children has been working in Syria since 2012, reaching over five million beneficiaries, including more than three million children across the country. Save the Children’s programming combines emergency & life-saving interventions with early recovery activities that support the restoration of basic services, including child protection, education, emergency response, food security and livelihoods, water sanitation and hygiene as well as health and nutrition.
[i] According to the Government of Syria’s Ministry of Health and Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria’s Health committee.
[ii] UNICEF, Clean water and good sanitation bringing wellbeing to neighbourhoods in Aleppo, 28 July 2022
[iii] The water crisis is resultant from drought and the reduction of the water flow of the Euphrates River [iii] coupled with war-induced damage to water infrastructure.
[vi] 83 per cent of respondents in a recent survey reporting that they cannot afford to buy soap, REACH, Humanitarian Situation Overview of Syria, North East Syria, June 2022
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