Qalamoun is a hard-contested area in rural Damascus province, near the front line towns of Yabroud, an-Nabak, Deir Attieh and al-Qutayfeh. The mountainous stretch made headlines this spring after opposition fighters allegedly shut down the main gas pipe that feeds the area’s power grid, in apparent retaliation for a regime blockade that has stopped aid from reaching civilians in Damascus’s eastern Ghouta.
Twenty-five days after it first began, the power outage in Qalamoun is now causing severe water shortages as the water pumps there need electricity to run.
Um Samer is a 32-year-old mother of four young children. Her husband owns a grocery store, and they live in the rural town of al-Rihaybeh. Here, she discusses running her household without electricity and water.
In the beginning, we thought the power cut would last only for a few hours, as was usually the case. After the first two days went by and news that the armed opposition had cut off the power to force the regime to meet its demands, we realized we were facing a big problem. Electricity is the most important thing to us. Everything needs power: fridges to keep our food from going bad, washing machines, water pumps and lights during the night. Our lifestyle is primitive. We have no power or water.
At first, we bought water from the water sellers. As days passed and the demand for water increased, the sellers starting hiking up the prices, especially since they extract the water from wells using generators that run on diesel and petrol. Now the price of water for one tank is 750 Syrian pounds ($5). Previously, it was only 250 ($1.60). My husband makes a meager income, so we, like many others, have resorted to using our neighbor’s generator. We buy the petrol for the generator and use it to power our water pump to fill our water tank.
I hand-wash all the clothes in a bucket. Previously, I used to wash one load every two days. Now, I wait for five or six days to do a wash. As for the house, I clean only once a week to save water, which has become increasingly difficult to get. Some families have a harder time [than we do]. If the situation stays as it is, I will have to do the washing and cleaning up once every 10 days.
I always make sure the kids stay clean, so I don’t have to wash them often. The problem isn’t just the water shortage but also the power outage. Cold water isn’t ideal for children and they could easily get sick. We used to use a water boiler to heat up the water. After the power outage, we use diesel or gas to heat the water up. Both are very expensive.
The power outage didn’t have a big effect, given that gas is still available to some extent. The main problem was, and still is, the water shortages. We can’t cook and clean the dishes without water. We limited our meals to certain kinds of food that do not [require a lot of preparation] or a lot of water. We also limited our cooking to smaller portions because the fridge doesn’t work and we have nowhere to keep the food from going spoilt.
In the beginning [the kids] caused me a lot of problems. They were used to watching TV and playing computer games. After the power outage, they got bored quickly, and now, they prefer to go outside to entertain themselves. But I don’t allow it because of the dangerous situation and because problems could happen out of nowhere. With time, they’ve slowly gotten used to it.
We hope [the situation improves], because otherwise, we will be in big trouble. The thing we fear the most is not being able to buy gas, especially since petrol and diesel are very difficult to find nowadays. I pray this situation doesn’t last.
(Editing by Karen Leigh.)