Middle East

Water scarcity could displace even more people

File - Boys use a bucket to extract water from a well in Arbeen, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, in this May 6, 2014. (REUTERS/Diaa Al-Din)

The lowest rainfall in 55 years combined with damage to infrastructure and the threat of drought raise the risk that more Syrians will be displaced from their homes, the United Nations Children’s Fund said.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq are straining those countries’ water resources, and an impending drought in the region will make things worse, UNICEF said in a report released Friday.

“The scarcity of safe water – adding to the impact of the ongoing conflict and the intense summer heat – raises the real risk of more population displacement and the spread of disease among vulnerable children,” Maria Calivis, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.

Most of Syria has received only half the average rainfall for this time of the year, the lowest since 1959, causing significant stress on water aquifers even before the peak summer season, according to the report.

In Jordan, the fourth-driest country in the world, dams are 42 percent full, compared with 53 percent at the same time last year, UNICEF said. This year has been the driest since 2008, with rainfall 31 percent of the annual average.

Lebanon, which is hosting more than 1.3 million refugees scattered in host communities and informal tented settlements, is experiencing one of its driest winters in 100 years, with reservoirs running dry, UNICEF said.

“Competing demands between host and refugee communities for safe drinking water and wastewater services are increasing tensions within an already volatile social, economic and political environment,” UNICEF said.

The three-year war in Syria has killed at least 162,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based group, and displaced millions more, the United Nations says.

The country’s infrastructure has been devastated, with neighborhoods wiped out, hospitals, schools and airports destroyed and a generation of children uneducated.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 07, 2014, on page 10.




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