Soaring summer temperatures coupled with overcrowding, dwindling access to safe water and worsening hygiene are adding to the threats facing some four million children affected by the Syrian conflict, the United Nations said Friday.
"It is hot now, but it will only get hotter," Marixie Mercado, spokeswoman for the UN's children fund, told reporters in Geneva, warning that temperatures in Syria and the surrounding region were expected to reach the mid-40s (up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit) in coming weeks.
The situation is already dire inside Syria, where more than 4.25 million Syrians have been displaced and where safe water is three times harder to find than before the conflict erupted in March 2011, she said.
It was also adding to the perils facing more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees, more than 800,000 of them children, often crammed into overcrowded camps in surrounding countries.
The Domiz refugee camp in Iraq is for instance already hosting double the 25,000 people it was built to hold, while Jordan's Zaatari camp has swelled to become the world's second biggest camp, holding at least 120,000 people.
"Without enough safe water and sanitation, the likelihood that children in Syria and those living as refugees around the region will fall sick with diarrhoea and other diseases is certain to rise," Maria Calivis, who head's UNICEF's Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement.
Mercado pointed out that some 1,200 cases of diarrhoea had been reported in Homs linked to an influx from Syria's former rebel stronghold Qusayr, after President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched regained control of the strategic town on the border with Lebanon earlier this month.
She also said there had been an increase in diarrhoea cases in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraq, and while this was not yet a cause for alarm "it is something we are watching very, very closely."
UNICEF was also keeping an eye on rising cases of acute respiratory illnesses and has been running a measles vaccination campaign in Syria that has so far more than one million children, she said.
Measles "is an extremely contagious disease that spreads very easily in the conditions that we are now seeing inside Syria, especially in shelters, as well as in refugee camps," she said, noting that this year, Jordan had seen its first cases of the disease since 1994.
UNICEF needs more than $200 million to help provide water, sanitation and hygiene programmes in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq this year, but has so far only received $76 million of that funding, Mercado said.