Gaining its first access to Yalda, a neighboring area where many Palestinians have sought refuge since early June, UNRWA has now confirmed at least 23 cases of typhoid. Worse still, this comes at a time when Damascus is enduring an intense heatwave.
Located on the southern outskirts of Damascus, Yarmouk is one of 13 Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and was once home to some 200,000 people. Due to a brutal Syrian regime-imposed siege that limits residents’ access to food and medicine, that number had sunk to an estimated 18,000 by March.
Since that onslaught, the number of civilians left in the camp is estimated to be between 5,000 and 8,000, according to the Yarmouk-based Jafra Foundation for Relief and Youth Development.
“Fight against time”
“As a [heatwave] continues to affect Damascus, with temperatures topping 41°C (105°F), and with frequent cuts in water supplies, the risk of epidemics is extremely worrying in Yarmouk, Yalda and other adjacent areas such as Babila and Beit Saham,” UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told The Electronic Intifada.
“Access to healthcare in these places remains heavily limited,” Gunness said, adding that the UN has not been able to access the camp’s interior since 28 March — before the ISIS invasion.
“The vulnerability of civilians in Yarmouk remains of the highest severity. UNRWA is deeply concerned that without access, the most basic humanitarian needs of Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including many children, will be left unmet,” Gunness continued.
“This is a fight against time. We are concerned that unless we see a rapid improvement in the public health situation, the number of typhoid patients could increase to the level of a public health emergency.”
More than 95 percent of Palestinian refugees in Syria rely on UNRWA humanitarian aid for food, water and healthcare. However, the UN agency is enduring a severe funding crisis that threatens to disrupt refugees’ access to this aid.
Catastrophe after catastrophe
The typhoid outbreak is only the latest in a long series of catastrophes that Palestinians across Syria have endured since the uprising in that country started in March 2011.
With no food or medicine coming into the camp as a result of the suffocating siege, Palestinians resorted to eating stray animals and grass in order to survive.
More than 240,000 persons have been killed in fighting between the Syrian regime and armed opposition groups throughout that time, according to recent estimates.
Another 247 Palestinians have been abducted or disappeared, the Action Group adds.
On Thursday, Syrian regime forces arrested five Palestinians — including a 74-year-old man — at a checkpoint near the Khan al-Shiah refugee camp.
Meanwhile, back in Yarmouk, residents are still coping with the brutal occupation of large swaths of the camp by Jabhal al-Nusra and ISIS fighters.
At least 30 local Palestinian leaders — including politicians, activists and humanitarian workers — have been assassinated since the ISIS invasion in April, according to the Jafra Foundation.