Children’s Health and Education at Risk as Severe Cholera Outbreak Spreads in Syria
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (September 20, 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 September 19.[i] The outbreak coincides with the return to school for many children in Syria this month, putting 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 riverbank 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 the 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 widespread outbreak,[v] and a 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 with 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, the outbreak signals the need for a shift in focus towards early recovery and restoration of basic services, including water and sanitation. Finally, more structural support will help communities to absorb and recover from the impact of conflict in a more sustainable manner.
[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 neighborhoods in Aleppo, July 28, 2022
[iii] The water crisis is resultant of drought and the reduction of the water flow of the Euphrates River [iii] coupled with war-induced damage to water infrastructure.
[iv] It is estimated that over five million people in Syria are reliant on the Euphrates for their drinking water, OCHA, Humanitarian Needs Overview, 2022
[v] 46% of health facilities are either partially functional or not functional, OCHA, Humanitarian Needs Overview, 2022
[vi] 83 percent 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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