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More than 1.5 million people in Aleppo have been without running water for five days, as battles rage around key water infrastructure and power to pumping stations is cut, leaving civilians at risk of water-borne diseases, Oxfam warned today. The international agency called for action to halt attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure as the Syrian-Russian offensive enters its third week.
Residents on both sides of the city, opposition-held East Aleppo and government-controlled West Aleppo, are relying on water from wells or delivered by trucks, which are unreliable and sometimes contaminated sources. The two pumping stations Suleiman al-Halabi, which supplies most of the city, and Bab al-Nairab have been shut for several days. Bab al-Nairab was previously damaged in an airstrike carried out by Syrian or Russian air forces, while fighting is ongoing in and around Suleiman al-Halabi where Oxfam has installed a generator to power the station when the national grid is down.
Andy Baker, Oxfam’s lead on the Syria crisis response said: “Deliberately targeting water supply, whether through air strikes on facilities or cutting off water, is a war crime. Warring parties must immediately halt attacks on civilian buildings such as schools, hospitals, homes, and water infrastructure. They should allow repairs to be made to the water network, including by halting fighting in key areas, in order to pump clean and reliable water to hundreds of thousands of civilians in Aleppo.”
Speaking to Oxfam, an East Aleppo resident, Basma, 35, said: “The water network is damaged in some areas, to the point where you can see [bomb] craters filled with water. We are still managing to get water through different means, from local wells. But it’s not safe to go out in the street”.
Nassim, 65, another resident of East Aleppo reported that food was scarce. “Fetching water from the local wells is another daily challenge, as going out is dangerous and the water quality is an issue. You can’t be sure if the water is safe or contaminated”.
Walid, 35, from West Aleppo said: “Queuing to get water is a time consuming struggle, and buying water is becoming expensive. You need to pay more to get water first from truckers. Winter is coming and we have no electricity, and fuel is not available. The situation is becoming unbearable.”
Syrian forces and their allies, backed by Russian and Syrian aerial bombardment, launched a military operation on September 22 to retake East Aleppo, where 250.000 people are trapped with no access to aid and face constant attacks from the air. There are daily reports of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure
"The horrors in Aleppo continue to mount. That the bombardment of the city is being carried out and supported by a permanent member of the UN Security Council, flouting the very resolutions it has passed, makes a mockery of the international system designed to promote peace, stability and respect for human rights. But this cannot be an excuse for inaction on the part of other members of the international community,” said Oxfam's Baker.
“Other permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council should support a resolution demanding an immediate halt to aerial attacks on Aleppo, to allow for aid to be delivered and the ceasefire and political negotiations to be revived."
Notes to editors
In addition to the 2,000 KVA generator installed in Suleiman al-Halabi, Oxfam has equipped three wells in West Aleppo to produce around 500,000 liters per day and installed eight water purification units on the Qweik river to produce also 500,000 liters, though four of them are currently being repaired after sustaining damage.Oxfam also has 3,500 hygiene kits ready to be distributed in East Aleppo, but the convoy cannot currently access the opposition held part of the city.