Syria Feature: As Regime Cuts Off Water, Damascus’s Children Fall Ill


PHOTO: The damaged pumping facility for water from Wadi Barada, northwest of Damascus

Millions of people in Syria’s capital Damascus are enduring water shortages because of damage, caused by pro-Assad airstrikes, on the main supply from the Wadi Barada area.

See Syria Daily, Jan 9: Pro-Assad Forces Renew Attacks Near Damascus

In an interview with Syria Direct, Dr. Mohammad, working at a Damascus hospital, describes the ensuing sickness among children.

And a resident says, “A ton of people these days [are] going to the parks to wash their clothes and to bathe.”

The Doctor

Q: What impact is the water cutoff in Damascus having on the spread of illnesses?

There isn’t enough water in people’s homes, and people can’t buy it because water is very expensive now. As a result, people aren’t washing things like fruits and vegetables properly.

Even restaurants have stopped cleaning their cooking supplies and utensils properly, which has led to a spread of food poisoning among their customers.

Q: Last week, the UN released a statement on the lack of high-quality water provided by private water companies, and the threat of disease, especially among children. Can you tell us more about some of the children you have treated in the hospital this past week? What symptoms are you seeing?

I’m seeing cases of children of all ages suffering from severe diarrhea as well as fever. Many of their families are afraid that their children are sick from the contaminated water.

There are a number of patients who remain under observation until their situation improves. One of them is an 8-year-old boy who has been in the hospital for four days. His family brought him here, and he received treatment after showing all the signs of water poisoning. His condition worsened when his blood pressure dropped, so he spent two days under observation until he stabilized.

Q: Is the hospital prepared to treat cases of water-borne illnesses? How is the hospital operating now, with the lack of water?

The medical staff at all the hospitals in Damascus are prepared for any case of water poisoning or other illness, and are ready to provide medical services to the sick.

The hospitals are getting water from the government’s reserves via sterilized water tankers.

Q: What advice are you giving to residents to avoid water-borne illnesses?

We are advising residents to take care to clean the food they are giving to children, and to wash fruits and vegetables well before giving them to members of their families.

We are also advising against eating food from restaurants because most cases of food poisoning in children come from parents who resort to feeding their kids at restaurants due to a lack of water in their own homes. This prevents them from cooking at home.

The Resident

Q: How have you been getting by since last month’s major water cutoff to Damascus? How have you had to adjust your daily routine?

The initial shock was quite difficult, but we were comparatively fortunate because thankfully there are cisterns nearby that pump water to our house for washing and bathing. However, when it comes to clean drinking water, we’ve got to buy boxes of bottled water, which go for around SP700 (approx. $3.27).

Again, I say comparatively fortunate because those who are far away from wells and cisterns like me are forced to rely on water tankers. Each tanker can carry up to 25 barrels of water, which runs for SP5,000 (approx. $23.39) per barrel. That means that a whole tanker goes for SP125,000 (approx. $584.71). People inside the heart of Damascus and many in the surrounding neighborhoods are forced to rely on water tankers because you aren’t going to be finding any water otherwise.

There are a ton of people these days going to the parks to wash their clothes and to bathe. Similarly, people have started to have just falafel for breakfast and lunch because you can’t run a proper kitchen if you don’t have clean water.

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Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham and editor-in-chief of EA WorldView. He is a specialist in US and British foreign policy and international relations, especially the Middle East and Iran. Formerly he worked as a journalist in the US, writing for newspapers including the Guardian and The Independent and was an essayist for The New Statesman before he founded EA WorldView in November 2008.


  1. I read the above from as a dull story. About six weeks ago published an interview that was interesting for me about Syria, and I give the best snippets below. The background to the interview is that the rebel-held town of Moadamiya in western Rif Damascus agreed to surrender to the govt in October 2016 after a long seige. The surrender was on the usual govt terms, i.e. local rebels could move to Idlib with their weapons or reconcile with the system and stay in Moadamiya. A locally-born rebel who opted to stay in Moadamiya was interviewed by in November 2016 and he says about Moadamiya after the surrender:

    QUOTE: “Every fighter who stayed in the city gave up his weapons, except for those who joined the Popular Committees. They can keep their weapons, which they will keep to protect the outskirts of the city from any type of attack. [Editor addition: Popular Committees are akin to local civilian police forces, many of which receive a salary from the regime.] The regime gave army defectors and those avoiding military service a rest period of six months. After that, those men have to join the army. During the rest period, they can leave Moadamiyeh without fear of getting arrested at another checkpoint. They also have the chance to move somewhere else. If these men stay after the six months are up, however, they have to join the army…. or else join the civilian police force, which is responsible for securing order inside of the city.”

    QUOTE: “When I was in the Free Syrian Army, I received a salary every six months. There was no other source of income or business during the siege. Now my FSA salary has been cut off and I don’t have money…. Families are relying on welfare aid to cover 75 percent of their needs…. 95 percent of residents live in poverty and there are no work opportunities…. Things cost three times less now than they did under siege, but still we can’t afford most things.”

    QUOTE: “In the south of Syria, the revolution has been killed, but the war will continue in the north…. Even if we go to Idlib we won’t achieve the goals of this revolution. If the three brigades in Moadamiyeh didn’t unite during the siege, how can we expect the thousands of factions in Idlib to come together?”

    I suggest you ask yourself how does the government get the self-confidence to require the local rebels to join the re-organized local security forces? Part of the answer is that the rebellion has been killed in the south, as the above rebel from Moadamiya said. Another part of the answer, which I know is still a controversial matter on this board, is that most of the citizens of Moadamiya do support the govt and do not support the rebellion. This majority supported the govt through all the years of the rebel control of the town. The same is true in Raqqa city, held by ISIS for the last 3.5 years: the majority in Raqqa city support the Syrian govt.

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