October 25, 2016

Syria conflict Life under siege in rebel-held Aleppo


Aleppo was once a place of culture and commerce, with a jewel of an old city that was on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites.
Now, the five-year civil war that rages in Syria has left much of it destroyed and divided roughly in two, with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces controlling the west and the rebels the east.
A month ago, government forces re-imposed a siege on the east, and launched an all-out assault to take full control of the city, accompanied by an intense and sustained aerial bombardment.
Activists say the offensive has left hundreds of civilians dead, but the government and its ally Russia have denied targeting them and blamed rebel fighters for operating in residential areas.
But what about the 275,000 people who are trapped there? Where are they getting their food from? Do they have enough water and medicine?
The quality of daily life depends on where you live
There is no single group in charge in eastern Aleppo – it is divided between mainstream rebels backed by the US and its allies; the al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as al-Nusra Front; and Kurdish forces, who say they support neither the government or the opposition.
In the Kurdish-controlled district of Sheikh Maqsoud, markets are well stocked and prices are stable, according to the Reach Initiative, which is in touch with people on the ground to gather regular humanitarian reports.
One road out of Sheikh Maqsoud has opened up in the daytime, allowing people to get out and goods to get in. But the district is surrounded by checkpoints, meaning people from the other areas under siege cannot get in and out easily.
In other parts of eastern Aleppo, the situation is more urgent. Generators are running out of fuel, meaning electric power is sporadic, and some air raid shelters – where residents may spend hours or wait overnight for bombing to stop – are not wired with electric light at all.
Food and water have become weapons of war
Humanitarian aid agencies have been unable to get into eastern Aleppo since the siege resumed on 4 September.
Both the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been calling for humanitarian corridors to be opened up since then, but so far those calls have been ignored.
That said, charities are still in contact with people who live there.
Reach says some markets are still up and running in parts of Aleppo under siege, but for key foodstuffs like eggs, flour, vegetables, fruit, chicken and cooking oil, whether you will get them or not is touch-and-go.
In three districts – Qadi Askar, Masakin Hanano and Tariq al-Bab – markets have run out of flour completely. Reach says some people are rationing their last pieces of dried bread and tubes of tomato paste, while others are bartering what is left in their cupboards.
For food that you can get, the price is hugely inflated.
Before the conflict, seven pieces of flatbread cost 15 Syrian pounds. Now, it comes in packets of six pieces, costing 451 Syrian pounds on average (£1.66, $2.12) – expensive in a city under siege, where many ways of earning money have disappeared.
People are buying water from wells and privately-owned water tankers, and carrying it home in buckets. Many have reported that it tastes bad, and there is no guarantee that it is free of disease.
It is hard to say whether anyone has died of hunger in the siege because with aid agencies unable to get inside, they cannot accurately diagnose the level of malnutrition.
But Pablo Marco from the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said: “The siege is pushing people towards starvation.”
There are hardly any doctors left
Many doctors have fled the city as refugees or been killed in the fighting, and there are just 30 doctors remaining in eastern Aleppo.
Using the UN’s estimate for the number of people trapped there – 275,000 – that means there is roughly one doctor for every 9,100 people.
This in a place that is being bombed every day – at least 376 people were killed and 1,266 wounded in the first two weeks of the latest government’s assault, according to the UN.
The places where doctors work have been repeatedly targeted by government and Russian air strikes, activists and charities say. The UN says six hospitals are still operating, although they are only partially functional.
Two hospitals have been almost totally destroyed in the past two weeks, and three doctors and two nurses killed.
Mr Marco from MSF painted a troubling picture of the state of healthcare in the area.
He said: “The few remaining hospitals are collapsing under a flow of hundreds of wounded lying in agony on the floors of wards and corridors.

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