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16 May 2023

17 May 2023 – 100 days after earthquakes and aftershocks devastated northern Syria, 6.5 million people are at an increased risk of contracting the potentially deadly disease cholera, as the situation in the war-torn country deteriorates.

Severe damage to water and sewage infrastructure caused by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and thousands of aftershocks, has left drinking water systems at risk of cross contamination. Already in north-western Syria, there has been more than 70,000 suspected cases of cholera since September last year. 

While UNICEF has continued to provide life-saving water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services to about 765,000 people across Syria, it is not a permanent solution, the world’s largest children’s charity warns. Immediate repair to water and sewage networks, treatment and pumping facilities is critical and urgent as the region approaches summer and people need more clean drinking water.

Following the February 6 earthquake, State Governments around Australia contributed a total of $3.3 million towards UNICEF Australia’s emergency appeal, helping 3.6 million Syrians access safe drinking water and 1.8 million Syrian children and women access primary health care.

Peta Barns, an Australian Emergency Specialist at UNICEF and who is delivering aid in north-western Syria, says the situation has continued to deteriorate.

“Three months following the first earthquake and 12 years of conflict, which had already decimated critical infrastructure, life for children and women in Syria continues to worsen. The situation is exacerbated by the ongoing war and now the spread of acute watery diarrhoea and cholera,” Ms Barns said.

“Ongoing support is needed. Although the earthquakes may have faded from the headlines, it will take years to rebuild the damaged infrastructure and facilities, while the psychological impacts on children could continue beyond that.”

Approximately 6,000 people were killed and more than 12,000 injured across Syria by the multiple earthquakes.

Humanitarian access to north-western Syria is limited and while UNICEF currently has unique access through a Security Council resolution, which expires on 10 July, cross border access to the region after that date is uncertain.

UNICEF and partners have successfully rolled out an oral cholera vaccine campaign in the region, reaching almost 1.7 million people. Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness which is spread through contaminated drinking water and if severe and left untreated can be fatal. A second phase of the campaign is due to get underway targeting an additional 1 million people in earthquake-devastated areas.

UNICEF and partners have also helped nearly 150,000 Syrian children access formal or non-formal education.

“The generous contribution from UNICEF supporters, including in Australia, has helped us deliver clean drinking water to children and their families in the earthquake-affected areas. Psychosocial support has been provided to children to help them deal with the trauma from the earthquakes and the ongoing conflict. These contributions can be a lifeline to many families and children in the area,” Ms Barns said.

You can hear more from UNICEF Emergency Specialist Peta Barns on ABC RN Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas here:

For more information or to support children of Syria and Türkiye, please visit: