Yarmouk camp water cutoff in 16th month

January 21, 2016

When the Islamic State took over the Yarmouk camp in south Damascus last April, what was already a tight blockade imposed by regime forces actually got worse. The sporadic entrance of aid dried up, and intense turf wars for the two-square-kilometer camp squeezed the its remaining 18,000 residents even harder.

Amidst ongoing reports that the Islamic State will eventually withdraw from Yarmouk, captured in a surprise victory that appears, ultimately, to have yielded little more than headaches for the terror group, camp residents have since been hurtled back in time. To get water, for example, they “pull carts to water wells,” activist Ahmad Deeb tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani from inside the camp.

For the past 490 days, residents have depended on well water, Deeb says. But well water is not available in Yarmouk, so residents regularly drag their tanks and jugs to the neighboring district of al-Qadam.  

“Residents get water by pulling carts to the wells, carrying either a single 600-liter water tank or a number of jugs.”

Q: What is the water situation in the Yarmouk camp?

For the past 490 days, residents have depended on well water. To get water, people go to [neighboring, FSA-controlled district] al-Qadam and pay SP30 [approx. $0.16] to fill a 20-liter jug.

[Ed.: In mid-2013, the Syrian regime cut off water to several rebel-held areas in south Damascus, including the Yarmouk camp.]

 Volunteers participate in a water sterilization campaign in Yarmouk camp on Monday.

One Daraa activist who spoke with Syria Direct on Monday voiced fears about the potential impact of rebel infighting on the battles.

“There are accusations against Harakat al-Muthanna of extremism and [pro-Islamic State] tendencies,” the activist said, requesting anonymity, “but they have a strong fighting presence.”

“The fear is that [recent accusations] will affect the ongoing Sheikh Miskeen battles,” he said.

Q: What is the potential impact of unpurified water?

It is well water, which is known to contain many kinds of germs and bacteria that lead to different illnesses [such as hepatitis and typhoid fever].

Medical [personnel in the camp] have warned people in the camp about this, but not all families are able to buy drinking water, even at a low price.

There have been a number of demonstrations and messages from inside the camp warning the international community of the dangers in ignoring the water cutoff.

Q: What are some of the difficulties facing residents because of the water cutoff?

Residents get water by pulling carts to the wells, carrying either a single 600-liter water tank or a number of jugs.

It is difficult to transport that water to the rooftop [where holding tanks that store water for household use are placed] because of the lack of electricity to work the motors to move it.

Since the blockade began in July 2013, fuels have been prevented from coming into Yarmouk. Because of this, some people have started to burn plastic and convert it to artificial fuel to operate the camp’s water pumps and electric generators. This harms people’s health, and there have been explosions and deaths due to manufacturing these materials.

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