By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) - A third of Syria's housing stock and thousands of schools have been destroyed during the conflict, forcing some 4.25 million people to abandon their homes and 2 million children to drop out of class, U.N. data and statements said on Tuesday.
The homeless are mostly women, children and the elderly who fled their homes with no personal effects and are staying with other families, who are themselves surviving on very limited resources. More than 2 million more have left the country.
Nearly 200,000 others are in overcrowded communal centres without clean water, electricity or sanitation, according to a report by Chaloka Beyani, the U.N. independent expert on the rights of internally displaced people.
It said 1.2 million houses had been destroyed in the conflict that began in March 2011 with protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad and has turned into an increasingly sectarian war in which at least 100,000 people have been killed.
More than 3,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed and almost 1,000 more are being used to house displaced people, U.N. children's agency UNICEF said.
UNICEF says 2 million children have dropped out of school and a total of 4 million children are affected by the conflict, including 1 million who are now refugees.
"Parents say their children are experiencing frequent nightmares, they are behaving recklessly and aggressively and their drawings are often angry, violent and full of images of bloodshed, explosions or destruction," UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said.
The psychological damage means children can lose the ability to connect to others, Jane MacPhail, a UNICEF expert working in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp, said in a statement.
"Basic feelings can stop and children find themselves unable to think ahead or remember recent events," she said.
Many children, especially girls, do not go to school due to a climate of insecurity and fear of attacks, Leila Zerrougui, U.N. Special Representative on children and armed conflict, said in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
"In addition, armed groups have interfered in school curricula," she said in the report.
The United Nations had not verified the information, but some non-governmental organisations involved in education in Syria have reported armed opposition groups were forcing them to separate boys and girls and to ban music in school.
Other reports were that children were being indoctrinated or recruited for use in the conflict, she said.
The fighting has also damaged civil infrastructure. A pipeline taking water to 1.3 million people in Hama and parts of Homs has been out of action since being damaged in heavy clashes almost a month ago.
"The pipeline is not fixed yet. There is lots of work under way to get water to people through trucking and other ways," UNICEF's Mercado said.
(Editing by Alison Williams)