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Turkey Invasion Of Syria: Damage To Water Infrastructure And Risk Of Water-borne Disease

DAMASCUS, Syria

The World Health Organization (WHO) is gravely concerned about the humanitarian health situation in northeast Syria, where up to 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of increased military operations since 9 October, and almost 1.5 million people are in need of health aid.

This follows the offensive launched by Turkey on Kurdish people in northern Syria after the Kurds' main ally, the United States, withdrew from the region and indicated it would not stand in Turkey's way.

Media reported 10 October that the Alouk water supply station in the surroundings of Syria's Ras Al-Ayn border city, also known as Sarekaniye, had gone out of service due to 8 October airstrikes and shelling of the border areas by Turkey.

Alouk water station is the only source of fresh water for people in Al-Hasakah city, the administrative center of the surrounding province.

Syrian state television said that grids powering the station were disabled due to bombing in the area.

According to International Committee for the Red Cross spokesperson Ruth Hetherington, Hasakah's main water plant was significantly damaged by recent shelling, and, as refugees flood in, the city could be "about to run dry".

"Water is a huge issue in Hasakah," she said.

WHO drew attention to the increased the risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases. Even before the current escalation in conflict, acute diarreah and typhoid were two of the most reported diseases among people in northeast Syria in August 2019. Ongoing displacements, overcrowded living conditions, and limited access to safe water and sanitation services, will likely lead to an increase in the number of people affected by water-borne diseases.

“People in need of essential health care services face challenges related to insecurity and limited access to health care. Already weakened health services in northeast Syria have been severely impacted by the latest security developments. The national hospital in Ras Al-Ain is currently out of service, and the national hospital and two health centers in Tel Abyad are also currently non-functional. The three field hospitals in Al-Hol camp have limited their services since 12 October as a result of the escalation of hostilities which has impeded access of health staff to the camp. All health facilities in camps hosting displaced people in Ain Issa and Ras al Ain have also been evacuated, with additional facilities under threat as the conflict rapidly escalates…A number of health partners have already suspended services due to insecurity, further disrupting access to essential health care services”.

On 11 October Rupert Colville, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), read a statement which related:

“…We have received disturbing reports that airstrikes and ground-based attacks by Turkish army and affiliated armed groups have affected key civilian infrastructure and objects such as water pumping stations, dams, power stations, and oil fields. On 9 October, water reportedly ceased to flow from the main water supply station in the area of Alouk in al-Hassakeh governorate, as a result of a Turkish airstrike. It is likely that thousands of people will be deprived of adequate access to clean water in the area supplied by the station”.

Colville’s statement stressed that:

  • The parties to the conflict should avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. By their very nature, indirect-fire weapons such as artillery increase the risk to civilians and civilian infrastructure.
  • Civilians and civilian infrastructure are to be protected from attack and from the effects of the hostilities.
  • Attacking, or rendering useless, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as water and sanitation facilities, is prohibited.
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