The United Nations has warned that water shortage poses a serious threat to children in the Syrian capital of Damascus where 5.5 million residents have been scrambling for clean water for nearly two weeks amid acts of sabotage by foreign-backed militants.
“There is a major concern about the risk of waterborne diseases among children,” the spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Christophe Boulierac, said on Friday.
He added that children in Damascus were going through many hardships to collect water for their families.
“A UNICEF team that visited Damascus yesterday said that most children they met walk at least half an hour to the nearest mosque or public water point to collect water. It takes children up to two hours waiting in line to fetch water amid freezing temperatures," the UN official said.
The head of the UN-backed humanitarian taskforce for Syria, Jan Egeland, told reporters in the Swiss city of Geneva on Thursday that just in December “5.5 million people have had their water supplies cut or minimized.”
He stressed that "to sabotage and deny water is of course a war crime," warning that civilians "will be affected by waterborne diseases" if clean water supply is not restored.
Water supplies from the militant-held area of Wadi Barada near Damascus have been severed since December 22, when Syrian army soldiers and fighters from popular defense groups launched a major offensive to recapture it after terrorists refused to surrender and leave the mountainous area near the Lebanese border.
The Takfiri militants had also earlier contaminated Damascus's drinking water supply with diesel. The water authority had to cut supply to Damascus and resort to using water reserves after extremists polluted the Ain al-Fijah spring in the valley.
The Barada River and Ain al-Fijah spring reportedly supply 70 percent of the water for Damascus and its environs.
Although people in some neighborhoods can get up to two hours of water every three or four days, many people have to buy water from unregulated vendors, with no guarantee of quality and at more than twice the regular price.
According to the UN, 15 million people across Syria are in need of help to access water and households spend nearly a quarter of their income on water.
UNICEF has provided generators to pump water and is delivering 15,000 liters of fuel daily to supply up to 3.5 million people with 200,000 cubic meters drinking water per day.
Over the past almost six years, Syria has been fighting foreign-sponsored militancy. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimated in August that more than 400,000 people had been killed in the Syrian crisis until then. The UN has stopped its official casualty count in Syria, citing its inability to verify the figures it receives from various sources.