'The interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease puts children and families at unacceptable risk'
Hundreds of thousands of people in northeast Syria are at greater risk of contracting the novel coronavirus because of repeated interruptions to their main water supply, Unicef warned on Monday.
The Allouk water station in Ras Al-Ain, a border town controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies, has not pumped water to the Kurdish-held northeast for days due to an interruption a Britain-based war monitor blames on Ankara.
Unicef on Monday said the pumping station supplies water to around 460,000 people, including residents of Hassakeh city and the overcrowded Al-Hol camp, which is home to thousands of relatives of Islamic State group fighters.
"The interruption of water supply during the current efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease puts children and families at unacceptable risk," Fran Equiza, the agency's representative in Syria, said in a statement.
"Uninterrupted, reliable access to safe water is essential to ensure children and families in the area don't have to resort to unsafe" sources, she said.
"Water and water facilities must not be used for military or political gains."
Northeast Syria, home to IS prisons and sprawling displacement camps housing tens of thousands of people, has not yet recorded a single coronavirus case.
But Damascus on Sunday declared the country's first coronavirus case, prompting deep concern among Kurdish officials who have warned that their embattled region is ill-equipped to deal with an outbreak.
Amid the alarm, Turkish forces around the Allouk station have deliberately cut water supply to Hassakeh and surrounding areas for the second time in recent weeks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.
The war monitor said Ankara and its Syrian proxies had cut water in the past to pressure the Kurdish administration into supplying more electricity to a power plant under their control.
With taps still dry, the Kurdish administration on Monday enforced a 15-day lockdown over fears of a coronavirus outbreak.
"The risk of a virus outbreak here is very high," warned Mazlum Abdi, the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the region's main military outfit.
He urged residents to abide with lockdown measures "in light of the weak capabilities" of the Kurdish authorities in the face of the global pandemic.