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Cancer and thirst in Syria

Six years of armed crisis have destroyed much of the infrastructure Syria fought so hard to build following its independence in 1946. Colleges, hospitals and high-voltage pylons have succumbed to the destruction.


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“Water is life,” says this poster in Damascus. Photo by Pablo Sapag M.

Pablo Sapag M.


Aleppo, Syria. – Syria has also been a victim of the sanctions imposed on it shortly after the crisis began by the absolutist dictatorships of the Persian Gulf, the Turkish Islamist regime and the West.

These sanctions prevent the financing of any reconstruction in the wake of the destruction or the provision of basic replacements and supplies necessary for maintaining what still remains standing.

At the headquarters of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Aleppo, its top representatives explain that today, six years after the beginning of the crisis, there has been an alarming rise in deaths from cancer.

The top dignitaries of some of the Christian churches of Syria, which is a secular state, as well as officials from the Catholic NGO Cáritas are saying the same thing.

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Distribution of drinking water on a street in Aleppo. Photo by Pablo Sapag M.

It is the result of an embargo that scarcely allows for any exceptions and those which it does are in practice ignored given how tortuous and excessively expensive it is to acquire – always via intermediaries – certain resources.

This is why it has not been possible to replace machines for diagnosing illnesses and those for delivering radio/chemotherapy which have become obsolete.

Machines that have broken down cannot be reinstated because it is impossible to get spare parts. The result is an alarming increase in deaths from all kinds of tumours.

It is a rather similar story with the water treatment and pumping plants. Some, such as Jafsa in Aleppo and Wadi Barada in Damascus, were occupied by local and foreign armed groups operating in Syria.

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Syrian Arab Red Crescent Ambulance of Aleppo. Photo by Pablo Sapag M.

In many cases, the groups have put them out of action to besiege cities under state control. In others, the battle to recover them has damaged the infrastructure. Reinstating them once recovered is the priority of the authorities.

But this is difficult. Spare parts and other supplies are needed. Whilst they are reaching full output there are still cuts to the service that can last for days. Water distribution in the streets is commonplace and even when there is mains supply the red plastic tanks used to store water are everywhere to be seen as are the government’s appeals to inhabitants to preserve the precious resource.

”Water is life,” say the notices which can be seen in public along with signs that praise the action of the Syrian Arab Army, which also needs water in the north-east of the country to launch its operation to liberate Raqqa, the capital of the self-styled Islamic State. The civilians and soldiers of Syria are thirsty. (Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL –

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Photo by Freedom House – Flickr


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