​Water used as weapon of war against Syrian refugees

This is the fourth in a series of reports from Syria by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer. The first: Latakia, a summer vacation spot that appears normal amid a worsening war; second: Qardaha, the deeply loyal hometown of President Bashar al-Assad; and third: Militia aids Syrian army near Jordanian border.


DAMASCUS, Syria -- Food is running short for many of the 11 million people who've lost their homes in Syria. Every ration card is a lifeline for families who escaped with their lives from the fighting in the western part of the country. They're relatively safe here in Damascus -- but destitute.

The United Nations World Food Program gives them basic staples, but as international donations dwindle, so do the rations. What used to be a month's worth now has to last for two.

And then there's water. The refugees forced to squat in unfinished buildings have none, so UNICEF works to bring them the minimum for washing and drinking -- but it's scarce.

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A young Syrian refugee carries a jug of water in Damascus
CBS News

Rebel fighters, who have seized Syria's fresh water sources in the countryside, sometimes turn off the taps.

"This water is being used as a weapon of war," said UN engineer Atif Deib. "From time to time we have a complete cut off water from the big cities like Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa."

There are so many internal refugees that Damascus is overflowing. Some can afford a room in one of the city's cheap hotels; others are on the street.

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Ahmad, 80, cries as he tells CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer about life as a refugee in Syria
CBS News

Fighting drove Bacel M'sheinish from his home three years ago along with his father, Ahmad, 80, who was once a doorman at the Damascus Sheraton hotel.

Ahmad lost his place in an overcrowded refugee hostel and now, like so many others, sleeps in the park on a square of cardboard, crushed by a war he didn't ask for and is powerless to stop.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."