Abu Abdo al-Khatib waited his turn as the sun beat down on him and dozens of other locals in Aleppo waiting their turn to reach the water well. As the summer weather grows hotter, the largest city in Syria continues to endure a drought that has already spanned for more than two weeks.
“We are here to get some water,” al-Khatib, a 48-year-old resident of the al-Shaar neighborhood, told Syria Deeply, explaining that the water shortage came in the middle of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims. “We have kids at the house who need water in order to break their fasts.”
As the country is engulfed by bloodshed, water crises have troubled Syrians across the map. The United Nations children agency, UNICEF, said last week that the scarcity of water and the high temperatures have put Syrian children at a “high risk” for disease. In a sharp uptick from previous years, more than 105,000 cases of Hepatitis A have been recorded since the beginning of the year, the group added.
Although water scarcity is not unique to Aleppo, it has hit the community hard. Already war-torn and plagued by insecurity, economic devastation and deteriorating public health, many Aleppo residents are desperate. “We can live through difficult circumstances, but not without water,” al-Khatib said, sadly. “Taking a bath or washing has become a dream. They must figure out a way to help us.”
In the eastern, opposition-controlled part of the city, water stopped flowing on June 20, locals told Syria Deeply. The water pumping station hasn’t had electricity since battles between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and anti-Assad rebel groups intensified in the area in recent weeks. In order to have the water running again, repairs are needed at the local electricity plant, which is currently too dangerous to reach.
Thirsty and in need, many local residents have resorted to using untreated well water, despite the potential health risks drinking it poses. In al-Shaar, people assemble in a long line spanning the battered path to a well at a private residence. They often wait for hours in the hot sun.
In the nearby neighborhood of al-Baab, Umm Abdullah, 55, carried a large pot and searched for a water distribution center. When she arrived, she found more than 150 people already waiting in line. Although people here rarely gather in large groups for fear of being bombed by the Assad regime, they are desperate. “I live in the al-Jazmati,” Umm Abdullah told Syria Deeply, referring to another neighborhood in the area. “Nearly everyone has fled. There are only 20 families left in the entire neighborhood.”
Like in al-Shaar and other Aleppo neighborhoods, al-Jazmati has also been cut off from water for more than two weeks. “I have to get some water,” she said. “We have to wash laundry and dishes. We haven’t been able to bathe in more than a week. The world is watching, but doesn’t do anything to help us.”
Umm Abdullah says the Assad regime regularly cuts off the electricity to many parts of Aleppo, leaving them without water when the pumping station shuts down. “They [Assad’s forces] do whatever it takes to kill people,” she said, “from dropping barrel bombs from the sky to cutting off our basic services.”
Many locals have contracted various illnesses from drinking the well water, according to Abu al-Huda, a 33-year-old physician from Aleppo. “The water well in Aleppo in absolutely undrinkable,” he told Syria Deeply. “We advise people not to drink from it unless there’s an emergency. It is very salty and can cause several health issues, including kidney stones.”
The General Directorate of Services is an organization recently created to service residents of the rebel-controlled part of Aleppo. Operated by civil activists, its main tasks are to maintain and provide services like water, electricity and sewage.
Abu al-Alaa, the organization’s media director, explained that both of Aleppo’s water supply sources are currently controlled by ISIS. He added that alternative solutions such as drilling artesian wells or obtaining fuel to operate the water pumping station are also difficult. “There’s almost no way for us to secure the quantity of diesel fuel [needed to operate the station],” he told Syria Deeply. “Furthermore, the city already suffers from a lack of fuel because ISIS controls most of the oil wells in Syria.”
In addition to the frequent electricity outages, the General Directorate of Services’ work is also hindered by the badly damaged infrastructure. “One big issue is that the city’s infrastructure is constantly bombed,” he commented. “This sometimes forces us to cut off water for several days while we get the pipes repaired.”
Back at the water distribution center in the al-Baab neighborhood, Umm Abdullah says Aleppo cannot continue like this. “People are thirsty. We are sick of this situation,” she said. “Every night I pray to wake up the next day and find Syria the way it was before.”