In Salqin, a small town in Syria's northeastern governorate of Idlib, three members of the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al Sham are lying sick with a contagious fever characterized by an inflammation of the intestinal tract.
"We are living together, and now we are all suffering from the same disease," said the commander of the unit, Hamza Abdurrahman, having difficulties speaking because of his sore throat. "The doctor told us we had typhoid because we drank dirty water."
The rural area near the Turkish border has seen a growing number of infections in recent weeks, Abdurrahman told IRIN.
"There is no running water, so people drink from the wells or the rivers." The only alternative is buying water from tankers, which is very costly. "You have to pay about US $35to fill up the tank on your roof. This is why poor people are having a problem."
After two years of conflict in Syria, waterborne diseases are on the rise, compounding a growing humanitarian crisis. Typhoid, an infection caused by salmonella bacteria, has been reported, in addition to hepatitis A, a highly contagious viral liver disease.
Infections are spreading due to a confluence of trends, said Elizabeth Hoff, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Syria. For example, water pumps cannot be run because of the shortage of electricity and fuel. The resulting lack of drinking water is in addition to an almost complete breakdown of the sewage and the waste system in some regions, she said.
Hence, people resort to drinking from rivers or wells that might be contaminated with faeces. To make matters worse, these risks of infection coincide with the collapse of the health system. According to WHO, more than half of all hospitals in Syria have been damaged; more than one third are out of service. Many doctors have left the embattled cities, and medication is often not available.
"Everything is coming together," Hoff told IRIN. "This is certainly a crisis with a very grave outlook."