Risks of fire, heat stroke soar as heat wave cooks northwest Syria • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights
The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Risks of fire, heat stroke soar as heat wave cooks northwest Syria

Displacement camps in northwest Syria are sweltering as a heat wave sweeps the area.


A heat wave has hit northwest Syria in July, with temperatures going over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The weather brought great distress to vulnerable populations, particularly the displaced people who live in camps with no basic services or protection, amid power shortages and severe water scarcity.

The Syria Response Coordination Group, a nongovernmental organization operating in northwest Syria, reported on July 27 that the high temperatures have put the camps at risk of fire. According to the group, since the beginning of 2022, more than 116 fires have broken out in the camps, damaging at least 143 tents, killing four children and injuring 23 others. The organization also reported on June 22 that hundreds of camps are in need of insulation and many tents are in need of repair or replacement.

Zakwan Muhammad Nour al-Din, director of the Basmat Amal camp, one of the several al-Kamouna refugee camps in northern Idlib and home to more that 15,000 displaced people, told Al-Monitor the heat has hit the camps hard, adding, “The al-Kamouna camps also suffer from severe power shortages, and therefore there are no means to run fans or ventilation equipment, not to mention the scarcity of drinking and usable water.”

He explained, “The situation has led to the spread of diseases and illnesses such as sunstroke, burns, fever and diarrhea among the camps’ residents, notably children and the elderly. Since the beginning of the heat wave, we have been recording three cases of illnesses per day.”

Each summer, the camps turn into hothouses, their residents helpless against the heat. The makeshift and dilapidated structures create an environment conducive to the spread of disease.

The tents, particularly those made of nylon, create a greenhouse affect that is deadly to children and the elderly.

Nour al-Din explained that the camps’ residents often take shelter in the shade of trees and those with access to enough water to do so spray it on their tents or cover them with wet cloths that they change out every hour. Those who are able take several showers throughout the day with their clothes on. Others use small battery-powered fans. To keep drinking water cool, many residents dig a hole to store their supply inside their tents.

Nour al-Din warned that the major problem is the scarcity of water, which threatens personal hygiene and increases pollution, causing the spread of disease. Malnutrition is a constant threat as diarrhea runs rampant among the camps’ children. He said the heat has also increased populations of poisonous snakes and other reptiles. 

Mukhtar al-Mahbani, who was displaced from Rif Dimashq and currently resides in the Syrian opposition-held Rajo district in the countryside of Afrin, told Al-Monitor, “The situation has become unbearable. All life stops in the afternoon hours as the temperature exceeds 46 degrees Celsius. And with the frequent power cuts and weak battery-powered fan, our house turns into a greenhouse. It gets extremely hot, and reptiles and scorpions show up.”

In heat stroke cases, patients suffer from high temperatures, headache, shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat. It particularly affects children and the elderly.

Symptoms also include lethargy, muscle spasms, headache, vomiting, severe diarrhea to the point of dehydration, fatigue of vital organs such as the heart, kidneys and brain, skin rashes, shortness of breath  and seizures that could lead to coma.

Mufeed Muhammad al-Saghir, a doctor working at Nabad Al-Hayat Hospital in al-Dana in the Idlib countryside, told Al-Monitor, “There have been many cases of fainting among children and the elderly as a result of shortness of breath due to the high temperatures in the tents. These same symptoms strike workers who work under the sun without any protection. They have no other choice.”

“We provide first aid for injuries and preventive instructions,” Saghir said of his medical staff, adding that they recommend keeping tents as well shaded and ventilated as possible. “We also recommend drinking large quantities of water to keep hydrated, especially during the day.”

“Children ought to remain indoors especially in the height of the heat, and avoid sleeping during the day,” he added, explaining that children’s body temperature rises as they sleep.

“Camps ought to be overhauled and turned into adequate housing to provide protection from the summer heat,” Saghir stressed.

The camps in northwest Syria have been suffering for 10 years as the living conditions there get worse by the year, according to Bebars Mishal, commander of the Fifth Directorate of the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, in the northern countryside of Aleppo, which is held by the opposition forces.

“What you are seeing today is nothing new or unusual in northwestern Syria. Most of the tents are made of cloth and built directly on the ground, vulnerable to the weather. They are deeply affected by high temperatures and unfit for habitation,” Mishaal told Al-Monitor. “This is not to mention the severe shortages of basic services, most importantly water and sanitation services.” 

Mishaal explained that the high temperatures contribute to the fire risk. Unexploded munitions and ordnance scattered in fields are at risk of exploding in the scorching sun.

“The outreach teams in the civil defense are trying to raise awareness of the risks and ways to prevent heat stroke. We hold sessions in camps and recommend their residents to try to drink as much as liquid as possible and not to be directly exposed to the sun, especially children and the elderly, who should avoid the sun from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and keep their heads covered.”




Source:  Al-Monitor

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