Thousands of people in besieged East Aleppo under attack with little food, water and healthcare

Oxfam has moved a huge generator across conflict lines to East Aleppo to help improve the water supply, but all other aid to the besieged area remains cut off. More than a quarter of a million people face winter with limited food and clean water, as renewed Syrian and Russian airstrikes stretch medical resources beyond breaking point.

Three aid agencies - Oxfam, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the Big Heart Foundation - have warned that the humanitarian catastrophe in the city will deepen unless there is a complete halt in the fighting, an end to airstrikes and indiscriminate bombardment, and a lifting of the siege to allow aid into East Aleppo, and people to leave the city safely.

Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, SAMS’s president, said: “The situation is extremely dire. Medical supplies will not last more than a few weeks now that the airstrikes have resumed and the city is under siege. The few remaining medical staff are exhausted and overwhelmed. The city doesn’t have fuel or other sources of energy. And without fuel, electric generators and ambulances cannot function. We have to act now before it’s too late.”

To significantly increase and improve access to clean water across the whole city of Aleppo, Oxfam helped move a new generator to the city’s main water station, Suleiman al-Halabi, from government held West Aleppo to opposition held East Aleppo. Once installed, this generator, along with another installed by Oxfam earlier this year, will kick in when the power is cut to pump water to all of Aleppo’s residents. Since the offensive started, Aleppo residents have had intermittent access to clean water through the public network, and have to rely on wells and water supplied by truck, which can be unsafe and even contaminated.

However, no international aid convoys have reached East Aleppo since the launch of a Syrian-Russian military offensive in late July.

Andy Baker, Oxfam’s lead for the Syria crisis response said: “The two generators that Oxfam has provided should help provide a more consistent supply of clean water to Aleppo’s nearly two million residents. But food and medical supplies remain blocked. Clean water is vital, but it won’t stop starvation, never mind protect people from indiscriminate aerial attacks.”

The UN announced on 10 November that it was distributing its last food rations in East Aleppo, and warned of mass starvation if aid is not allowed in.

Abd Alwahab Jessry, Senior Advocacy Officer from the Big Heart Foundation, said: “We have distributed food rations to 22,180 families in East Aleppo since the first of October that would last them until the end of November. We urgently need to deliver more food to people there but for that, we are calling for a complete cessation of hostilities, an end to airstrikes and guarantees regarding the security of aid convoys.”

With ongoing airstrikes and bombardments targeting health facilities, the medical situation is on the brink of collapse in East Aleppo. According to SAMS, there are only 29 doctors left in the area, and the children of East Aleppo have not been vaccinated.

Dr. Tarakji from SAMS said“There are no trees to be cut and used as firewood. Thousands of civilians have no heating options, as the cold begins to bite. With dwindling food supplies, we are preparing for the worst, and expect to see the malnutrition impact at the peak of the winter season.”

Despite two announcements by the Russian military of a ceasefire, and the opening of humanitarian corridors, very limited aid has reached East Aleppo and no medical evacuations have taken place. Russia dismissed longer pauses requested by the UN, and Syrian airstrikes have resumed on the area after a pause that lasted nearly a month.

Notes to editors

1. Big Heart Foundation has been operational in East Aleppo since September 2014, directly implementing food security and livelihoods, non food items, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and education programming through an excellent contextual understanding of the area and well-established relationships with local stakeholders, including the Aleppo City Relief Office, neighborhood-level Local Councils and other NGOs operating in the city. Big Heart’s staff have continually endured indiscriminate shelling during distributions and while transporting supplies, in addition to attacks on its offices and warehouses. Big Heart has distributed over 160,000 food kits within Aleppo city and, until the recent siege conditions, provided food assistance to 8,000 households per month. Following the besiegement of East Aleppo, Big Heart remained as the last NGO with any significant food stocks within the city, all of which has now been distributed to 22,000 households within recent weeks. Big Heart has also rehabilitated five boreholes in East Aleppo in recent weeks. Following the distributions of all remaining food aid stocks within the city, Big Heart continues to search for methods to provide assistance by any means to trapped communities living within Aleppo city.

2. After having installed a first generator at Aleppo’s main water station, Oxfam has moved a second one into Suleiman al-Halabi to power one of the three sterilization units. The two generators, custom-made in Belgium and shipped to Syria for a total cost of about 1.5 million Euros, were transported to Aleppo by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) in close coordination with Oxfam. Suleiman al-Halabi is controlled by armed groups, and has been the scene of fighting with the Syrian army in October. This situation, and power cuts from the main line, have led to water cuts in Aleppo, which has pushed civilians to increase the consumption from unprotected water sources, such as wells and trucked water. Before the crisis, the second sterilization unit in Suleiman Al-Halabi was working at a total capacity of 7,000 kVA to operate 9 pumping sets. Oxfam’s two generators will be able to provide 4,000 KVA of the requested capacity. Photos of the generator are available here.

3. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) have been involved in providing health services in Aleppo since 2012, through 9 health facilities providing surgeries, primary health care, births deliveries, nursing school, and others. The majority of those facilities were attacked during last 4 months. More than 30% of  SAMS  1,700 staff in Syria are besieged in several areas. The 160 health workers supported by SAMS in Aleppo were added to this list recently. SAMS besieged staff face winter, malnutrition, waterborne diseases, chronic diseases and the constant war injuries.

Contact information

Joelle Bassoul, Oxfam, Syria crisis media advisor, jbassoul@oxfam.org.uk, +961-71525218

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