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Ominous warning on Aleppo: ‘No help, no supplies would be so catastrophic’

Syrian boy moves jerry can filled with water. (Credit: UNICEF)

With food aid on the brink of running out, the people trapped in the Syrian city of Aleppo are facing water shortages after government forces attacked water points. And, winter is coming.

“The children of Aleppo are trapped in a living nightmare,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth, to the media in late September. “There are no words left to describe the suffering they are experiencing.”

Doctors Without Bordes (MSF) warned in October that children were at increased risk because of a rise in violence, the lack of essential vaccines and poor sanitation. The lack of clean water puts children at risk of diarrhea and dehydration, both treatable problems that can turn deadly when hospitals are bombed. MSF reported cases of hepatitis A caused by unsafe drinking water.

Families must fill jerry cans with water from points installed by humanitarian groups to do basic things like cooking and bathing. Water flows intermittently. Some points have not functioned for more than 100 days, according to UNICEF. They estimate that 5 million people in Syria experience disruptions to water access.

Humanitarian access across Syria is controlled by the government. Vital medical supplies and food reach people only when it is allowed. The U.N. continues to negotiate for more access, but it only happens in fits and bursts.

Special Adviser to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Jan Egeland announced Thursday that the last food rations were delivered in Aleppo. There are no plans to distribute more food. The people who managed to get some of the rations have help for now, but there are many more whom the U.N. could not reach. They must turn to local markets where food prices are “skyrocketing,” said Egeland.

“The consequences of no help, no supplies would be so catastrophic that I cannot even see that scenario,” he said during a news conference.

Children collect water in jerry cans from a UNICEF truck in Aleppo, Syria. (Credit: UNICEF)

Children collect water in jerry cans from a UNICEF truck in Aleppo, Syria. (Credit: UNICEF)

Air drops of supplies are not possible in Syrian cities. The U.N. proposed a plan to help people in Aleppo to the Syrian government and the countries involved in the civil war.  The request seeks the ability to distribute medical supplies, evacuate people in medical distress, allow more medical personnel into the city, and allow the distribution of food aid and basic supplies.

“When is it going to be green light for supplies, next week, the week after, or the week after that? I don’t know, but it has to come soon because food distributions stopped today basically,” said Egeland.

These problems are not limited to Aleppo. The U.N. estimates that 8.7 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance. Dozens of cities, including Aleppo, are under siege by Syrian government forces. People are then trapped and cut off from aid unless the government allows it. No aid made it into Aleppo between July and September.

“I have not seen a place where it is so difficult to do basic humanitarian work and supplies because of political and military and strategic conditions, and here I would say all sides could help us more,” said Egeland.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]