Children’s health and education at risk as severe cholera outbreak spreads in Syria

At least 24 people have died from the water-borne disease and several thousand suspected cases have been reported across the country as of 19 September[i]. The outbreak coincides with the return to school for many children in Syria this month, putting both 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 river bank 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 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 wide-spread outbreak[v], and 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 who have 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 mobilise 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 to that, the outbreak signals the need of a shift in focus towards early recovery and restoration of basic services, including water and sanitation. More structural support will help communities to absorb and recover from the impact of conflict in a more sustainable manner.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.