In the afternoon, the streets of Aleppo are mostly empty and the stores are closed as the sun pounds down on the city. The few people who go out during the hottest hours of the day wrap wet towels around their head in search of relief.
As temperatures reach 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius) in parts of the country, Syrians are suffering from an ongoing heatwave that has left many feeling desperate. “We are trying to cope,” Abdulqader, 28, told Syria Deeply. “People are thirsty and there’s almost no water to drink.”
Abdulqader, who lives with his family in Aleppo, where residents are already enduring a scarcity of water and electricity, says the heatwave is life-threatening. During prayer times, he says he spends as much time as possible at the local mosque because it is equipped with fans.
For three weeks in late June and July, Aleppo, the largest Syrian city, suffered water shortages that resulted in long lines at water distribution stations across the eastern, opposition-controlled part of the city. The crisis complicated daily life in the already war-torn community even more as illnesses and water-borne diseases became more common, as Syria Deeply reported at the time.
An estimated 41 percent of children who visited United Nations-administered clinics in Aleppo were suffering from acute diarrhea, JulietteTouma, UNICEF’s communications specialist, told Syria Deeply.
“What makes things harder is the lack of running water [in much of Aleppo],” Abdulqader explained, adding that electricity shortages have also rendered daily life more difficult. “Those who have generators can get by, but most people cannot afford to pay for [generators].”
The local branch of the Syrian Red Crescent has tried to inform people about coping with the ongoing crisis, distributing pamphlets on how to avoid and treat dehydration and heat stroke. Due to the dangerous security situation, however, volunteer Abu Haitham says that the group does not have access to statistics on how many people have been affected by heatwave-related illnesses.
“We have been transferring a lot of sick people from the opposition-controlled parts of the city to the regime-controlled parts,” he told Syria Deeply.
Even those who can afford generators are able to use them only during select hours. Many Aleppo residents who spoke to Syria Deeply say that they are in desperate need of fuel, as well.
Umm Muhammad, 62, a housewife and mother of six small children from Aleppo, explains that this is “the first time I’ve witnessed heat like this,” adding that the price of ice and water has soared since the onset of the heatwave. “We need this money to buy food also,” she told Syria Deeply. “Since we have no electricity, refrigerators do not work and food spoils quickly.”
Abu Ali, a 33-year-old butcher who owns a shop in the working-class Tarek al-Bab neighborhood of Aleppo, says that his business is suffering due to the heatwave and the lack of electricity combined. “Before [the heatwave] we used to freeze the meat we didn’t sell,” he told Syria Deeply. “We can’t do that anymore. We make sure to purchase less than the usual demand so that we don’t lose money if leftover meat goes bad.”
Back at home, Abu Ali doesn’t allow his small children to go outside during the blazing-hot afternoon. “I buy a block of ice every day and bring it to my kids,” he commented. “The fan is always running as long as we have electricity. But at nighttime, we have trouble sleeping. It’s too hot.”
Khaled, an Aleppo-based nurse, recounts five cases of children suffering from sunstroke in the past week at his hospital. “We have reached out to the NGOs in Aleppo about the importance of raising awareness and encouraging people not to go out during peak heat hours or stay in the sun too long,” he said.
According to Abu Alaa, spokesperson for the local public services administration, nearly 800,000 people in the opposition-controlled swathes of the city have been impacted by the water and electricity shortage. The administration has been unable to carry out many of the repairs to equipment and service stations because they are located in areas experiencing intense clashes between opposition groups and Syrian government forces.
“The fighting has been intense for the last month,” Abu Alaa told Syria Deeply, adding that “the regime has refused to provide us with electricity” for a nearby water pumping station that was damaged during the fighting.
As the sun pounds down on them, many residents feel helpless. One 35-year-old activist, Abu Jaafar, argues that the heatwave causes suffering to grow as Syrian government forces continue to clash regularly with opposition groups in and around Aleppo.
“The heatwave will go away eventually at least,” he told Syria Deeply. “The barrel bombs and rockets don’t appear to be going anywhere soon.”
Top photo: A child drinks from a water faucet in Aleppo. (Associated Press)