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Cordaid NL
Humanitarian Aid

Eyewitness report from battleground Aleppo

Alarming news reports from Aleppo are following each other in quick succession. We learned about the current situation at first hand. This is the story of a city that is experiencing one of the heaviest outbreaks of violence since the beginning of the war in Syria.

Humanitarian aid worker from Aleppo Adnan, sticks by his hometown and is trying to help the inhabitants as much as he can. He is looking for possibilities to start new aid projects, also for Cordaid. He is our eyes and ears on the ground.

“If we don’t hear any explosions for more than an hour, that’s when we really start to get worried.”

Though he often has to take cover for yet another bombing or airstrike, he finds the time to give us his view on the current situation. “The last couple of days we had to spend long hours in the basement,” he says. His words sound unnecessarily apologetic, reacting to the fact that it was hard to get in touch with him for some time.

Life goes on

Adnan has to live and work under difficult circumstances. However, when you ask him about his daily life he emphasizes: “After years of war, we are used to this situation now. We don’t let it affect our lives that much anymore. Life goes on. People are going to work and they do their groceries. When a mortar hits a square somewhere, everybody starts running for their lives. After a little while, the store owners start opening their shops again and life returns to normal.”

Still, Adnan and the other remaining inhabitants of Aleppo face incredible challenges every day. “We have been without electricity and water for three days now. At least once a month there is an armed conflict by a water or power supply and it all stops working. People who own power generators sell electricity on the street, at very high prices. They are all over the city, but for a lot of people it is way too expensive. With a 1000 Syrian pounds (€4.18 euros) you could keep a light bulb burning in your house, but if you want to use a refrigerator or other devices, it will cost a lot of money. The same goes for water. It is available, but only for those who can afford it.”

What about food?
“As long as the roads are accessible for supplies, and now they are, food is available. When the city was under siege, a kilo of tomatoes cost 2000 Syrian pounds (€8.36). That is really a lot here. Though it was still available.”

Food kits distribution 2
Distribution of food items in Aleppo.

While Adnan is talking, the explosions in the background seem terrifyingly close. “Can you hear that,” he asks. “These sounds are a part of life here. People don’t care anymore. We keep doing what we do, regardless. If we don’t hear any explosions for more than an hour, that’s when we really start to get worried. Then we ask each other: what could be wrong? Why is it so quiet?”

Another explosion. The phone speaker cracks. They are getting louder.

Are you safe Adnan?
“Oh yes, don’t worry. I know exactly what direction the cannons are pointed at. At the same time, I am always aware of the fact that something could hit wherever I am, at any moment. People walk around while bullets are falling from the sky and don’t even pay too much attention to it. Some bullets though, explode when they hit the ground or any other object, like a person. Those are the worst. When that happens, people get seriously injured.”

“When we kiss our family goodbye and close the door behind us to go out into streets, we don’t know if we will return home that day. That is a reality we have learned to live with.”

And yet life goes on, you say?
“It does. Children still go to school. Although the conditions are far from ideal. Since most schools closed down, children have to share the ones that are still operational. So you will find 50 to 60 children jammed together in a classroom. That doesn’t really benefit the education system. Still, they are attending school, which is of course very important.”

What about hospitals? Are they still operational?
“There are two public hospitals people can go to, but they have to provide treatment to an enormous amount of people. There is a serious lack of medical professionals because a lot of them fled the country. So now, it is often the medical students who are performing the surgery. After a bombing, the hospital floods with injured people. Actual treatment is often not possible. So they amputate the wounded limbs because that is more effective at that moment.”

Birth hospital targeted by a missle
A birth hospital attacked by missiles.

Do you have children of your own growing up in Aleppo right now?
“I have a 4-year- old daughter. She is going to kindergarten. And my wife is pregnant.”

Aren’t you living in a constant state of worry?
“Every Syrian is. Whenever we wake up in the morning, when we kiss our family goodbye and close the door behind us to go out into streets, we don’t know if we will return home that day. That is a reality we have learned to live with. We are doing our jobs and we are going to the market. We spend a lot of time together, we sit around and watch television, we meet in restaurants or coffee shops and have fun. Sometimes we go on vacation at the beach. And then we come back to hell.”

But if it is hell, why do you go back?
“It is my hell. It may sound strange, but I like this hell. And I keep believing tomorrow will be better. I want to be here and help out. Most of my friends and family left the country but I keep hoping that things will improve. If the crisis ends today, we will need at least another five to six years for life in this city to return to what it was before all this. A lot needs to happen. It is extremely difficult because, and it hurts me saying this, but some people here take advantage of the situation as well. When a building has been attacked, the first thing they do is rob the houses. That really upsets me.

Believe it or not, I also see good things around me. Before the crisis, nobody here would think of joining an NGO as a volunteer, because they would be too worried about not earning a salary. Now, some organizations here have more than 50 volunteers working for them. I see a lot of young people who are interested in helping others as much as they can. There is also a lot of goodness coming out of this situation.”

 

(The name in the article has been changed for security reasons)