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Inside Syria: How UNICEF Delivers Clean Water to 10 Million People

A girl carries jerrycans of water in Aleppo, Syria.

A girl, carrying jerrycans of water, walks past a pile of debris on a street in Aleppo, Syria. The city, which has been a site of prolonged fighting during the conflict, is experiencing frequent interruptions in its water supply. ©UNICEF/NYHQ2012-1293/Alessio Romenzi

Syria’s infrastructure is falling apart beneath the crushing weight of the three-year-old war. Essential services, like clean water, are disappearing. Millions of Syrians — including the 3.1 million children directly affected by the war — are at risk of losing access to water. UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water to Syrian families and children are a critical part of what is now the largest humanitarian operation in history. This year, UNICEF has provided safe, clean water to 10 million people—nearly half the population.

In February, UNICEF led the first nationwide assessment of Syria’s water and sanitation infrastructure since the fighting began. The conclusion: in war-torn areas, the supply of clean water had fallen by two-thirds compared to pre-conflict levels. Sewage treatment had fallen by 50%. Six areas were most at risk—rural Damascus, Idlib, Der Ez-Zor, Homs, Aleppo and al-Raqqa. In Der Ez-Zor, in eastern Syria, for example, the supply of water was just 10% of pre-crisis levels.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water and sanitation in Syria, especially to the schools that remain open, are complex, ranging from repairing and replacing generators and pumps to delivering chlorine, trucking in water by road and bringing jerry cans and water purification tablets to displaced families living in shelters.

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On 19 June, a boy carrying jerrycans walks amid tent shelters in the Atmeh camp for displaced people, in the north-western Idlib Governorate.

In some areas, UNICEF is maintaining the entire water supply. In July, for example, UNICEF delivered five generators and eight water tanks to provide safe drinking water to more than 1 million people in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Located in the country’s northwestern corner, Aleppo has been the scene of furious fighting and has the highest number of war-affected children in the country.

At times, these efforts are extremely challenging. UNICEF Emergency Specialist AbdulKadir Musse described a desperate attempt to get a generator to Al Quasar, a town near Homs whose water supply had been bombed. A journey that should have taken one hour took seven. “We could see bombs falling not far from us,” Musse said. “We could see aircraft bombarding the town. We could see houses burning. We could see tanks shelling; it was really very scary.”

The next day, the generator began pumping fresh water for a million and a half people.

UNICEF needs USD $46.5 million to keep delivering water to Syria’s families and prevent children from dying of waterborne diseases.  Please support UNICEF’s Syrian relief efforts.

3 Comments

  1. Barbara Brudnicki
    Posted September 7, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Thank God for your help in saving these children.

  2. Rafael Banda
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I can´t even imagine how to physically help out to deliver something as basic as clean water in this war torn region. This is truly a remarkable undertaking you all are doing!

  3. Dottie Mayol
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    This war is so devastating and pointless. I just gave to you for the Typhoon victims in the Philippines, and now my heart aches to see the situation with water shortage in Syria. Thank you for saving these people from dying due to lack of clean water!

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