HUFFINGTON POST

Typhoid Strikes Palestinian Refugees In Embattled Syrian Camp

"The vulnerability of civilians in Yarmouk remains of the highest severity."
Rubble and heavy damage remain on a deserted street during a government-escorted visit to the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascu
Rubble and heavy damage remain on a deserted street during a government-escorted visit to the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, on April 9, 2015.

The United Nations has confirmed a typhoid outbreak in Yarmouk, Syria's embattled Palestinian refugee camp. It's the latest hardship for a community that's suffered heavy bombing, an Islamic State takeover and devastating food shortages. 

U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness said that six people were diagnosed with typhoid fever Tuesday in a statement shared with The Huffington Post. 

"The vulnerability of civilians in Yarmouk remains of the highest severity," he said. 

"Our concern is that these typhoid cases only represent the tip of the iceberg, because the erosion of health services and appalling public health standards create a massive, massive risk of diseases breaking out," Gunness told the Thomas Reuters Foundation. 

The U.N. discovered the illness when workers for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, gained access to Yarmouk on Tuesday for the first time since June 8. The UNRWA treated 211 people at a mobile health point and provided 50,000 water purification tablets to a local committee.

Typhoid fever is a life-threatening illness caused by drinking contaminated water and food, according to the CDC.

Before the Syrian civil war between the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad and various rebel groups, Yarmouk was a suburb of Damascus with 200,000 residents. Roughly 150,000 Palestinians lived side by side with Syrians, and enjoyed greater rights and benefits than their compatriots living in other Arab countries. 

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said that before the Islamic State took control of Yarmouk in April, there were just 18,000 refugees living there. Several thousand have since fled. 

Those who remain are living in desperate conditions, with little access to food, water or electricity. A dramatic photo from Yarmouk in early 2014 showed refugees lining up for U.N. food aid after months of isolation:

This Jan. 31, 2014, photo from the UNRWA shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk lining up&nbsp
This Jan. 31, 2014, photo from the UNRWA shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk lining up to receive food supplies in Damascus, Syria. 

Last year, UNRWA was only able to access the camp 131 days out of the year. "Never has the imperative for sustained humanitarian access been greater," Gunness said. 

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