A city that had a-5million population before war, is now inhabited by around 1.7 million citizens in total, and the number is in decrease. Reasons of migration are no secret to any one, from heavy fighting and to siege, and lack of life essentials.
Currently the city is divided into two parts: east Aleppo, which is held by rebels and armed groups such as the al Qaeda-linked Fateh Al-Sham Front (previously al Nusra Front) and Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, and west Aleppo, which is now the territory of the Syrian government. While government forces consistently pound the rebel-held districts, the Islamist militants are firing back with rockets, mortars and deadly gas cylinders. The civilians have been caught in the line of fire. And they are paying a high price, says Dr. Nabil Antaki who lives in west Aleppo and pursues his work as a doctor and activist working with Maristes Alep. According to Dr. Antaki “the city’s west has around 1.5 million inhabitants now. About half a million of them are displaced. Most of them fled the city’s east in July 2012,” while the eastern side has around 250 thousand inhabitants.
The worst factor pushing people to leave the city is lack of water. The western part of Aleppo in particular has suffered water shortage in the past few years – sometimes lasting for months on end. The main reason is due to the simple fact that the city’s water treatment is located on rebel-held turf, and the militants regularly cut the water supplies to the government-held sections of the city.
Aleppo Water Crisis: Causes and Reality
All areas of Aleppo, Eastern and Western, are supplied with water through three major water pumping stations. Those three stations are fully under the control of Islamist militias and rebels.
First Station: Bab Al Nayrab
It pumps water into the main water storage tanks of Karm Al Jabal which supply the old city, parts of Al-Arqoub, and city center.
Second Station: Sulaiman Al-Halabi I
This station pumps water into the main water storage tanks of Al-Haydariya which in their turn supply east Aleppo, and the city center till the railway.
Third Station: Sulaiman Al-Halabi II
This one pumps water into Tishreen water storage tanks at Al-Zahraa neighborhood. Tishreen storage tanks provide west Aleppo with drinking water, starting from the railway westwards including Al-Hamdaniya neighborhoods. And this station is the main dilemma in Aleppo water crisis.
On 30 September 2016, water pumping stopped in the three stations due to the heavy clashes that were accompanied by the loss of electricity through Khanasser line.
Syrian Army had managed to advance towards the transformer electricity station near Sulaiman Al-Halabi pumping stations, and was able to control the power station, but due to the heavy clashes, the power station was severely damaged and went out of service.
The Ahali Halab Initiative (Citizens of Aleppo Initiative) managed to reach an agreement to keep water pumping stations away from military action in order to keep them safe from damage.
Maintenance teams of governmental Aleppo Water Authority could not enter the second and third pumping stations to check the damage for nine days, until finally an agreement was reached with the help of Ahali Halab Initiative. Many engineers, technicians and workers from Aleppo Water Authority, and the volunteers of Ahali Halab work day and night risking their lives in order to provide all citizens with water. We must also refer to the full support from Aleppo Water Authority by offering repair tools despite the limited sources under the current circumstances
There turned to be some damage in the second pumping station, and it was repaired. , and the pumps were supplied with electrical power through generators after allowing some diesel into the area under very strict conditions. Using generators instead of regular electricity decreases pumping production into third of the usual quantity. Pumping water into the central areas of the city (Al-Jamiliya, Almidan, Al-Shiekh Taha, Al-Sulaimaniya, Al-Telephon Al-Hawaa’I, Al-Hamidiya, and Al-Aziziya reaching Faisal Street) is now working.
But the third station which supplies the western areas –with over 1 million citizens- had the worst share of destruction.
Damages in the third station include the huge water hammer tanks, pumps cooling motors, water pumping motors, hydraulic lifts, and electrical generating groups. East Aleppo remained without water for 26 days and the only solution was to use the generators of the second station alternately in order to feed the third station while attempting to repair the damaged parts. Repairing the third station is specifically difficult because of the clashes and frontlines where volunteers risked their lives moving in and out of that area.
Moreover, sanctions continue to restrict the work of aid agencies and makes it more difficult to deliver water to people while giving Islamist militias more time and flexibility to gain more areas and impose more threat on civilians
The basic solution to the water crisis is to get electricity from the main electricity network into the second and third pumping stations and use the generators as a backup plan that would be resorted to in case of a general breakdown. This can be achieved only by repairing the power stations feeding Sulaiman Al-Halabi pumps. Additionally, sanctions must be lifted in order to accelerate humanitarian aid that 1.7 million civilians need in both parts of the city. Until that happens, Aleppo will still be suffering a catastrophic water shortage that continues to make the humanitarian situation deteriorate every day.