By David Youngmeyer
Daraa/ Damascus, 19 June 2014 – As the conflict in Syria rages on, the humanitarian situation for millions of children and families continues to worsen. UNICEF is working with partners to provide emergency assistance to the most vulnerable children and families across Syria, including hard-to-reach areas.
Daraa city, near the border with Jordan, is one such area, having experiences prolonged and intense conflict. A recent UN mission to the town was an opportunity for UNICEF to meet partners and local authorities face-to-face and assess humanitarian conditions on the ground.
An estimated 81,000 families (or around 405,000 people) are displaced in Daraa governorate, according to local authorities. Displaced families live in the host community, or in some 200 shelters – mainly schools and unfinished apartment buildings.
The UNICEF team visited a shelter in an unfinished multi-story building which was designed as an institute for deaf children. The shelter houses about 54 families, who cook and sleep in what would have been classrooms. Up to 15 people share each room.
Most of the families at the shelter are from rural parts of Daraa governorate. They were displaced from their homes by fighting and have been at the shelter for around two years.
Water and sanitation are significant problems at the shelter. The toilets are inadequate and lack sufficient water. People flush the toilets manually, and shower facilities have had to be improvised. Children reported they only showered every second day, depending on availability of water. Some families shower in their rooms to avoid the toilet areas.
UNICEF plans to work with local partners to run hygiene promotion sessions to raise awareness among children and women about the importance of hygiene and ways to improve hygiene given the basic conditions.
Water is key issue in the governorate as a whole, as some water pipelines have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict. Electricity cuts are frequent: there is typically no electricity for 21 hours each day and sometimes no power at all for days at a time. Lack of electricity means that vital water supplies cannot be pumped, while there is a lack of fuel for backup generators. Compounding the situation is that the governorate is experiencing drought conditions.
UNICEF Education Officer, Ibrahim Farah, spoke to children at the shelter.
“The children told me that they are going to school, which is near the shelter, and have recently finished exams. This is positive news as average school attendance rates are 46 per cent across the governorate.”
Although school is not currently in session due to exams and the approaching summer holidays, reports say that schools are overcrowded and work on double shifts.
More than 400 schools in the governorate are reportedly damaged, although most are still functional. UNICEF provided 85,000 school bags with school supplies to children in Daraa governorate during the 2013-14 school year.
“Some children are also attending UNICEF-supported school clubs. A number of children told me that they had lost up to a month of schooling during the chaos of displacement.”
In Daraa governorate, UNICEF supports 61 school clubs, which provide remedial education and recreational activities to conflict-affected children. “Children said they really liked the clubs.”
“The children say that what they want most is to return home,” says Ibrahim.