Typhoid outbreak grips Syria’s Yarmouk

UN calls for access as residents struggle for access to food and medicine while violence continues.

Residents in Yarmouk have struggled to get access to food and medicine since the Syrian government placed it under siege in 2012 [AP]

The United Nations has called for access to Yarmouk in the Syrian capital as its health teams find “increasing evidence” of a typhoid outbreak among residents. 

The total number of typhoid cases in the camp reached 90 on Tuesday, according to Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. “That is 90 too many,” he said. 

Residents of Yarmouk include Palestinian refugees and, to a lesser extent, Syrians. They have struggled to deal with mounting humanitarian crises throughout the ongoing conflict in Syria, particularly since government forces imposed a blockade on the camp following clashes with rebel groups in December 2012. 

Yarmouk residents struggle for survival

The UN removed Yarmouk from its list of besieged areas in July. Yet residents are still enduring difficult conditions, including frequent violence between the Syrian military and opposition groups. 

Typhoid was first reported in the embattled area last month when UNRWA gained access to residents in the neighbouring area of Yalda, a suburb of southern Damascus. It has since spread quickly. 

“The vulnerability of civilians in Yarmouk remains of the highest severity,” Gunness added. “UNRWA is deeply concerned that without access, the most basic humanitarian needs of Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including many children, continue to be left unmet.” 

ISIL invasion

UNRWA has been unable to access the camp’s interior since March 27, just days before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) invaded and captured large swaths of Yarmouk. 

Although ISIL withdrew just days later, the al-Nusra Front maintains a heavy presence in Yarmouk. 

Syrian government forces still control entrances to the camp and limit the amount of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies that enter, according to the Jafra Foundation, a Yarmouk-based humanitarian group. 

“Yarmouk’s residents are trapped between the brutal regime and its barrel bombs, on the one hand, and extremist groups like Nusra and ISIL on the other,” Wesam Sabaaneh, coordinator of the Jafra Foundation, told Al Jazeera. 

Yarmouk remains “effectively under siege”, said Sabaaneh, “and people are suffering with little access to medical treatment, medicine or food as violent clashes are taking place on a daily basis”. 

Located on the outskirts of Damascus, Yarmouk was once the most populous Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. In March, the UN estimated that the once 200,000 person-population had plunged to 18,000. 

“We think there are somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 people left now,” Sabaaneh said. “Typhoid is only the latest catastrophe to happen in Yarmouk. People are living in a very dangerous situation.” 

– With reporting by Patrick Strickland

Source: Al Jazeera