01/10/2017, 15.44
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Caritas: millions in Damascus left without water

The capital seems to have gone back to the “Stone Age" without electricity, gas and drinking water. Government army and rebels vie for control of the Wadi Barada spring, which supplies 70 per cent of the city’s water. Citizens line up for hours to stock up on water. Children have been hospitalised with rashes from contaminated water.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Damascus is back to “Stone Age" with no water, power cuts lasting hours, and gas and heating oil in short supply, says Sandra Awad, head of communications for Caritas Syria, in a report sent to AsiaNews.

The 38-year-old married mother of two has lived through the tragedy of Syria’s war for years. Recently, the city’s main problem is the lack of drinking water, a real emergency for millions of people.

In Damascus, more than five million people spent the New Year without water after supplies from the Ain al Fija spring were cut off on 22 December.

Located about 20 km northwest of the capital in the Barada River valley (Wadi Barada), this single source supplies 70 per cent of the water for the city and its environs.

People in the capital are "worried", the Caritas official noted. Stocking up on water has currently become a priority. Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, confirmed the problem in an interview with AsiaNews.

The government accuses the rebels, who have occupied Wadi Barada since 2012, of poisoning water supplies by dumping large quantities of diesel fuel into the spring.

Fighters have also cut off water supplies several times in the past as a pressure card to prevent the army from overrunning the area.

In fact, fighting in the valley continues despite a fragile nation-wide truce between the Syrian army and rebels brokered by Russia and Turkey in force since midnight on 30 December.

For millions of Damascus residents, long-term concerns about the direction of the war in Syria have been replaced by worries about where to get enough water to drink, do the dishes, wash clothes, or take a shower.

“Yesterday I waited for three hours in line to be able to have some drinkable water from a public garden near my house,” said Mostapha is a 55-year-old father of four children. “When I reached the faucet, the water was cut. Now I will use a part of this [Caritas] voucher to buy a quantity of drinkable water, if the shop has any. Most of the grocery stores are short of water now.”

The Syrian government, Ms Awad noted, has sought to ease the crisis by trucking water from wells around the city, but many people have received nothing. Some buy water from private tankers, whilst others take advantage of whatever they can get. Unfortunately, prices of bottled water and trucked water supplied by private traders to residential homes have tripled, with a black market now thriving.

Sarah, a mother of two children, said that she “bought some water from a trader who was passing by. It was very expensive and I didn’t know the source of this water, whether it is clean or not, but I didn’t have another choice. My tank has been empty for five days and I need to give a shower to my kids and do the laundry. We don’t have any clean clothes to wear”.

For experts, the lack of clean water has raised the risk of waterborne disease.  The children of Roula, a 39-year-old mother of three, “developed a rash after I gave them a shower with some water I bought from a trader. We couldn’t sleep that night. I took them to the doctor who told me that he received many cases like this during this week, and it is because of the polluted water we are forced to buy.”

For many Damascenes, 2017 began full of hardship and exhaustion. Finding alternative solutions to problems like electricity and oil crisis is possible, but no one can find an alternative to water. “We wish that this nightmare will end soon,” Sandra Awad said.

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