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A Syrian city has gone without running water for five days, U.N. says

A Syrian city has gone without running water for four days
A Syrian boy passes by by a market where gasoline stored in barrels is sold, in Aleppo, Syria, on Friday, July. 29, 2016. Photo was provided by the Syrian anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center.
(Aleppo Media Center via AP)

Two million people in Aleppo haven’t had access to running water since Friday, according to the United Nations. Fighting between government and opposition forces has damaged the electricity networks required to pump water throughout the Syrian city, the UN’s children’s agency, UNICEF, said in a statement Tuesday.

Though city authorities restored an alternate electricity source, in less than 24 hours the backup power lines had also been destroyed in an attack, the agency said, cautioning that citizens may resort to contaminated and unsafe water sources if the issue is not resolved soon.

The UN called for weekly two-day humanitarian cease-fires to allow for the repair of civilian infrastructure.

“The targeting of hospitals and clinics continues unabated, seriously jeopardizing the health and welfare of all citizens of Aleppo,” the organization said in the statement.

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The upsurge of fighting this weekend came as opposition forces fought to claim territories from pro-government troops. At least 250,000 people were trapped in opposition-held east Aleppo after the Castello Road, a key supply route and the last remaining point of access into the area, was blocked by the government early last month.

On Sunday, the Putin-backed Syrian government struck the rebels with Russian jets and ground support from Hezbollah. After heavy clashes, a major Syrian opposition body announced their fighters had broken the siege.

Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Security Council special envoy for Syria, has struggled to restart talk of a cease-fire. The Aug. 1 deadline for a U.N.-supported peace process has long passed, though de Mistura aims for another attempt "toward the end of August.”

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In the midst of heightened conflict, taps have run dry and medical supplies are running critically low. Drinking water is being dispatched by the UNICEF presence in the area, mostly toward the government-controlled Western side of Aleppo, where citizens are most vulnerable. UNICEF estimated that 325,000 people are receiving the emergency aid.

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Humanitarian efforts are stemmed by the poor access, said Juliette Touma, a UNICEF representative. “We are water trucking throughout the country, but the U.N. does not have fully fledged access to Aleppo, especially the eastern parts of the city.”

“It’s important that there is a lull in the violence, to allow the UNICEF team to provide supplies.” Touma said.

Beyond the deadly toll of gunfire and mortar shells, wars also kill through disease. Syria has seen the transmission of hepatitis, polio and meningitis among its citizens, according to a 2014 study published in the journal PLoS. The country’s civil war, now in its fifth year, may induce a health crisis in Syria for years to come.

The water shortage came during a heat wave, which is forecast to reach up to 100 degrees over the next week, putting citizens at added risk.

“This is a difficult time of the year, so it made something bad much worse. Children will resort to unsafe water sources, and they are more likely to catch waterborne diseases. If this is not resolved soon, the citizens of Aleppo will be on the verge of a catastrophe.” Touma said.

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