Water, sanitation & hygiene are critically important

The UN’s WASH programme coordinates and ensures the delivery of water and sanitation services to displaced Syrian people in camp and urban settings. As part of this, and on behalf of several major aid agencies (which are unable to work directly within Syria), we’re helping vulnerable people to take proper care of themselves and to avoid serious health epidemics.

Outbreaks of hepatitis, typhoid, cholera or dysentery are ‘inevitable’ in Syria and its neighbours… cases of measles and other infections are already growing because of the country’s broken health system and increasing numbers of displaced people.The Guardian, 2013

Displaced & struggling people are more at risk

Syrians are increasingly vulnerable to health problems associated with lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities, whether living in refugee camps or trying to survive within damaged and destroyed areas of the country. People living in close proximity to one another, under unhygienic conditions and increasingly unvaccinated, are at risk of diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, polio and measles. Access to clean water and proper sanitation is therefore crucial in helping to prevent health risks and even epidemics.

Good sanitation also reduces the presence of carriers of communicable diseases, including mosquitoes, rats, mice and flies. For example, the sandfly can carry a single-cell parasite which causes cutaneous leishmaniasis (the ‘Aleppo boil’). This results in serious open wounds which then also leave sufferers wide open to infection. Many cases of leishmaniasis have been diagnosed among refugees.

In 2013, we identified the first new case of polio in Syria since 1999 in one of our own hospitals, in Deir Alzour, but the WHO reports that it has now spread to Damascus and Tartous. Polio is a highly infectious and crippling disease which is transmitted through contaminated food and water. Polio can be prevented through immunisation, but the collapse of the childhood vaccination programme in Syria has left up to 500,000 children unprotected.

What we’re doing

We’re part of a group of agencies on the ground in Syria who deliver hygiene kits, chlorine tablets, water-testing, water filters and information to people living in very difficult conditions. Normally these kits are prepared for us, but sometimes we put together kits for our own WASH initiatives. We also help communities and individuals to understand the links between hygiene practices, poor sanitation, polluted water sources and disease. For example, in Deir Alzour we have supported the WHO-led vaccination programme against polio and have been delivering hygiene kits as well as information leaflets, in Arabic, to help prevent its spread. In Atmeh, staff from our children’s hospital go out six times a month into the Syrian refugee camps and the local towns to vaccinate children against polio.

How we’ve helped in the past

When people began gathering on the Turkish border in 2012, they had nothing at all. So we provided the first big tents to offer shelter to those waiting to cross into Turkey, and thus effectively started a refugee camp. We made sure to provide a medical centre and toilets there. Since other aid agencies were then able to assist at Atmeh, we soon left to focus our activities deeper within Syria, where the big aid agencies can’t reach. In the past we have also helped to clear household rubbish mounting up on the streets.

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