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21-05-2020 | Latest News , Middle East , Health Care in Danger

North East Syria: Millions dealing with sporadic water shortages, crippled health services

Millions of people in the north east of Syria are coping with fighting, destroyed infrastructure and lack of critical basic services, on top of the global COVID-19 crisis that has also hit Syria.

Only one of 16 hospitals in the north east is fully functioning and more than half of all public health centers are out of service. Sporadic water shortages disrupt daily life and weaken people’s ability to take basic hygiene precautions against COVID-19.  In some places, generators have become the only source of power. Families have been displaced repeatedly, often left with no choice but to return to towns and villages where public services have collapsed.

“For millions of people in north-east Syria, consequences of fighting, shortages of water, food and medicine, a lack of electricity, the economic downturn with job losses and price hikes are as much of a worry as coronavirus, if arguably even more so right now,” said Karim Mahmoud, ICRC head of Hassakeh office.

“There’s a risk that profound crises will worsen, hidden in plain sight, while the world’s attention is on coronavirus. The international community, humanitarian actors and donors must respond to the pandemic without losing sight of chronic conflict-related needs in places like Syria’s north east,” said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC’s Regional Director for Near and Middle East in Geneva.

Together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is responding to the most pressing needs, carrying out urgent repairs to critical water infrastructure, distributing food and daily hot meals to the most vulnerable people, and supporting healthcare services in communities and in camps.

Our operational update for March – May 2020:


Water shortages remain one of the main concerns of the civilian population in Hassekeh, Deir Ezzor, and Raqqa governorates. There has been a huge need to support water authorities, carry out urgent repairs, provide necessary equipment for water treatment, and supply camps with clean water.

In Deir Ezzor, the destruction extended to the water supply system, and most water treatment plants, stations, and networks have been out of service. Prior to the conflict, the main source for water in the city was Al Basel Water Station, which has been damaged and is now running at very low capacity. The only source of drinking water in the city now is Al-Joura water station which the ICRC rehabilitated and equipped with pumping sets and other necessary materials. Many families returned to heavily damaged neighborhoods where the water network had been affected by the military operations. ICRC with the support of SARC provides daily water trucking in these areas.

In Raqqa, people receive water once a week from the main water station, while in the rural areas families often resort to filling their own personal trucks directly from the Euphrates river to compensate for a lack of water from the main station. The ICRC has committed to fully rehabilitate the Debsi Afnan water station in the southern rural area, which will serve more than 20,000 people.

In Hassakeh, the Allouk water station, which has experienced numerous disruptions, is the only source for drinking water for approximately 800,000 people, in addition to being the main source for water trucking for Al Hol, Al Areesha and Al Twinah camp. The ICRC and SARC have been providing clean water through water trucking and installation of water tanks in Al Hol camp in addition to supporting IDP centres in Hassakeh city to provide the minimum water needed for hygiene and drinking.


In the north east, most of the health facilities are not functioning or are partially functioning. Out of 16 hospitals only one is fully functioning, eight are partially functioning, and seven are not functioning at all, according to the consolidated Health Resources Availability Monitoring System (HeRAMS).

None of the districts in the north east meet the emergency threshold of at least 10 hospital beds per 10,000 people. IDP centers and camps are putting additional burden on the already weak health system. 

In the camps where an estimated two-thirds of the population are children, the medical needs remain huge, including mother and child health care, pediatrics, surgery, mental health and physical rehabilitation.

The ICRC-SARC field hospital’s medical team received more than 2,670 patients in two months, mainly children who are greatly exposed to many health hazards including diarrhea, malnutrition and injuries. Lately, COVID19 is another worry, although there has been no confirmed case in any camps.

Medical needs remain huge either for pediatrics, surgery, and mental health across north-east Syria where the population has been exposed to repeated trauma and extreme stress.  In March/April 2020, nearly 2,800 people received improved healthcare services through the ICRC support to two SARC polyclinics in Hassakeh and Qamshli. An additional 1,180 people benefited from 18 SARC-supported mobile health clinics in Hassakeh city. Recently ICRC and SARC teams finalized setting up a COVID19 isolation center in Al Hol camp, and working on supporting a quarantine center in Hassakeh city.

Displacement & Food Assistance

Hassakeh continues to host thousands of displaced people who have fled areas affected by hostilities, in addition to long-term refugees from Iraq. The ICRC works in 21 out of 51 IDP centers in Hassekeh. In Qusair and Radwan Bakkary centers, the ICRC is rehabilitating latrines and conducting minor electrical works. In al Roj camp, the ICRC is installing 400 tents and constructing a drainage system. The community collective kitchen in the Al-Hol camp is providing thousands of meals on a daily basis; in March/April alone it provided more than 330,000 meals to families in the camp.

Returnees and displaced people have been experiencing food shortages and have been burdened by an increase in prices. In rural Raqqa, people were getting only one bag of bread every three days and had to pay five times the price per bundle to secure their daily family needs. ICRC and SARC continue to cover food gaps in some districts of Hassakeh governorate through distributing food parcels, and supporting farmers with wheat, barley seeds, fertilizer, and vegetable growing kits. In Raqqa, the ICRC supported rehabilitation of the main public bakery in Al Sabkha, which has resumed its production recently of 4,800 kg of bread per day benefiting a population of around 55,000.

For further information, please contact:

Adnan Hezam, ICRC Syria, Whatsapp only, Tel.: +963 930 336 718, 

Sarah Alzawqari, ICRC Middle East spokesperson, +961 3138 353, 

Ruth Hetherington, ICRC Middle East spokesperson, +41 79 447 3726, 


Location: Syria

Length: 03:49

Format: HD

ICRC ref: 20200521-Syria-OpUpdate

Filming date: Various from Oct 2019 – May 2020

Copyright: ICRC access all

00:00-00:26         Deir Ezzor, May 2020, Shots of destroyed city

00:27-00:46         Soundbite Musab Alsayed Taha, ICRC, May 2020

“The main objective of these interventions is to get water stations back in service by providing essential electro mechanic equipment and conducting repairs. For example Um Hassan and Labe stations in the eastern rural area of Deir Ezzor and Al Joura; the main water station in the city serving over 300,000 people.”

00:47-01:04         Soundbite Musab Alsayed Taha, ICRC, May 2020

                             In the middle of the current COVID-19 Crisis, the ICRC didn’t stop supporting activities. We supported the disinfecting campaigns SARC are conducting, we also provided personal protective equipment, hygiene kits, and did awareness sessions

01:05-01:50      Hassekah, October 2019: Water shortages, delivering water to the community.

01:05-03:28       Al Hol Camp, April 2020: infection control measures, hand-washing, social distancing in waiting areas, safe food preparation, and general views of camp.

03:29-03:49         Al Hol Camp, May 2020:  Setting up COVID-19 Patient Isolation facilities.

Duration : 3m 50s
Size : 551.2 MB
On Screen Credit: ICRC or logo

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