Currently, many of the settlements in Northern Syria rely on private water trucking measures or local water systems which have fallen into disrepair, either through time or conflict. Water trucking is a significant expense for many families, who survive on low incomes due to the economic crisis. Additionally, the damaged water stations are posing significant risk of water contamination, with the potential of making people sick.
Having access to clean water is a fundamental human right. It is of paramount importance every day, but particularly so in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic which require access to increases quantities of water for cleaning and disinfecting, to ensure people remain safe. As a WASH partner in many of the settlements in Northern Syria, ACTED is committed to ensuring that all residents have access to enough clean and safe water, to provide for their needs in terms of drinking, cooking and general hygiene practices.
With the support of the CDCS, ACTED has since May 2020 provided 16,286 individuals with immediate access to an average of 37.7L liters of water daily, while improving their continued access to water by conducting emergency repairs on a local water station.
Furthermore, ACTED implemented maintenance works and ensured the cleaning of the sanitation facilities in the settlements, as well as waste collection and disposal benefitting the 6,424 individuals living in those sites. For further improved hygiene practices, ACTED conducted hygiene promotion for 1,027 individuals in camp, and distributed 5,200 hygiene kits to 3,558 households living in out of camps locations who recently had been displaced or were extremely vulnerable. These components of the project improved the general sanitation and hygiene situation for vulnerable households and supported the wider Covid-19 prevention efforts.
Mohammed is one of the 16,286 people that ACTED’s supported with emergency water supply. As most of the Syrian population affected by the protracted crisis, he and his family are suffering from limited access to safe and clean water, forcing them to adopt negative coping mechanisms, including depleting their already limited income to buy drinkable water from private vendors.
Mohammed is 74 years old, and he is the head of a family of 6 children, 5 boys and a girl. Before the conflict, he owned a tailoring shop and says he lived a good life. After the conflict erupted in 2011 Mohammed and his family, like many other Syrian families, were forced to replace the comfort of their old life with a temporary tent in one of the many informal displacement camps located all over the country.
Mohammad explained that they have struggled with the conditions in the camp. Aside from the general poor living conditions, they have had problems with getting enough water to cover the family’s daily needs.
Mohammed says: “Our daily life is like that of anyone living in the camps, trying to make it one day at the time. The things I never used to worry about such as food, water and clothes have become all I think about.
If I get enough water and food for my children the day is good but this doesn’t happen often.
Access to safe and clean water is one of the greatest needs for Mohammed’s family. Before benefitting from humanitarian assistance, Mohammed used to buy water from a private supplier. However, this is an unsafe and very expensive solution, as the water is often not checked for contamination when provided directly by an independent vendor, and 1,000 liters of water cost around 4 USD. Globally, most people use an average of 100 liters of water daily for drinking, cooking, washing, and cleaning. However, the humanitarian standards (Sphere) indicated that families need around 20 liters per person daily at the bare minimum to survive – meaning that Mohammed and his family in theory need 160 liters daily just to cover their basic needs, costing close to 5 USD per week.
This might sound like an insignificant amount. However, families in Syria often don’t have a regular income as the job opportunities are very limited. When they do, the average daily salary is around 2-3 USD. As such a daily expense of 1 USD just for water, critically reduces the amount available for other equally essential expenses, such as food and other basic services that most of us take for granted.
For Mohammed and his family, the price of water means having to choose between water, food and medical services for one of his sick daughters. At the same time, the destruction and lack of maintenance on the local water station meant he did not have any alternative to access water.
“It was difficult to manage our expenses because my salary is not enough to cover the needs of our family. My daughter is sick and needs medicine which is expensive so even when we don’t have to pay for water, we struggle to buy enough food. When we had to pay for water our situation was very bad, we had to restrict our food expenses even more to save some money to buy water from the water trucks. Water is the most essential thing; you can live without food for a while but not without water” says Mohammed.
By rehabilitating the local water station and providing clean water through water trucking until repairs are finalized, ACTED ensured that camp residents now have access to affordable clean water. Mohammed and his family now receive 37.7 liters of water per day per person for drinking and domestic use.
Mohammed can get water directly from community tanks located all over the settlements. This way Mohammed and other families no longer need to buy expensive water from water trucks or be dependent on humanitarian organizations to provide water for them.
Mohammed says: “It gives me hope that we now can get water directly from the water station. Before I used to worry what would happen when the humanitarian organizations would stop giving us water. When they are not helping us we can barely survive. Now I am more calm, our situation is still not good but with water we can survive and I can focus on getting food for my family. It feels very good not to be dependent on other people to get water.”
Mohammad’s wife Layia explains that the conditions in the camp have become much better after ACTED arrived and started supporting their settlement. Since then, water is available, and she can now bathe her children two times a week.
She says: “Since ACTED started their activities, we have all the water we need. We no longer have to worry about how to get water or how much it will cost. It is such a relief. Now we can even take quick showers and clean our clothes. This is helping us to feel normal again. Life without water is really challenging and makes you feel unhuman.”
The water is monitored by ACTED regularly to make sure it safe for consumption. This has significantly reduced cases of water related diseases, which has been a reoccurring challenge in the settlements due to growing population numbers.
In order to guarantee the sustainability of the intervention, ACTED has trained local water authorities on maintaining the water station as well as on how monitor the water quality to ensure that the water station is safely and continuously operated after the project ended.