Russia strikes vital Aleppo water treatment plant: ‘The sight of water flowing from a faucet has become almost like a dream’

Russian warplanes struck the al-Khafsa water treatment plant in the Islamic State (IS)-held eastern Aleppo countryside last Thursday, cutting off water to some 3.5 million people. Although pumping has been partially restored, 1.4 million people in rural Aleppo are still suffering from water shortages.

“Life in the shadow of war no longer resembles life,” Zain Halabi, an Aleppo-based journalist, told Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.

Imagine that you want to bring water to the upper floors of a building. You have to walk one kilometer to reach the well, and then stand in line for hours in the heat of summer or the cold of winter–to say nothing of regime warplane rockets or barrels of death, often targeting crowds of people," explained Halabi.

Q: Aleppo’s water crisis began before Russia struck the al-Khafsa water station. To what extent has the airstrike exacerbated water shortages?

The water crisis before the airstrike was caused by electricity cuts. People would get potable water from the al-Khafsa station, but when the electricity was cut, they could not pump water to the upper floors of their apartment buildings. Increased fuel prices also contributed to the problem.

Now the water itself is actually cut, not just electricity. So even if some people could get ahold of scarce and expensive fuel to run their pumps, they can’t get any water.

A bomb slams into the al-Khafsa water treatment plant in a pilot’s-view video released by the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) on Twitter Wednesday. Although the Russian MOD called the target in the same tweet “an oil refinery,” the ordnance hit al-Khafsa, one of the most important water treatment plants in Syria. The facility processed some 18 million liters of Euphrates River water each day.  

Q: As the water station lies in Islamic State territory, how was it partially repaired?

Regime engineers repaired the station under the auspices of the Red Crescent, as IS possesses neither the expertise nor the materials to do it themselves.

In this case, the regime had no choice but to in a way cooperate with IS–if they hadn’t, then water would not be delivered to regime-held areas in Aleppo city.

Q: How are people getting water now?

People depend almost entirely on wells, so much so that the sight of water flowing from a faucet in the house has become almost like a dream, to the point that no one even thinks about it anymore. Life in the shadow of war no longer resembles life. The water situation is similar to the electricity situation. Some people have turned their refrigerators into closets for clothes because they are useless now.

Imagine that you want to bring water to the upper floors of a building. You have to walk one kilometer to reach the well, and then stand in line for hours in the heat of summer or the cold of winter–to say nothing of regime warplane rockets or barrels of death, often targeting crowds of people.

The suffering does not end there. Even after people get water, it isn’t clean, yet it still costs between SP80-150 for 220 liters, depending on the area. Dirty water in turn spreads disease. There are so many ways to die here.

Q: What is your position on the Russian airstrikes against IS?

Most recent Russian airstrikes [against Aleppo city] have targeted the city center and vital infrastructure, such as bakeries, electricity stations, schools, grain storage facilities and humanitarian aid trucks, causing dozens of civilian casualties.

Most strikes have targeted opposition groups, not IS, so the people who have been the most affected are civilians. In my opinion, the Russian strikes are causing civilian massacres.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

Joseph Adams

Joseph was a 2013-2014 Boren Fellow in Arabic based in Amman, Jordan and is the founder of Open Syria. He holds BA and MS degrees in political science from UCLA and MIT, and is an MA degree candidate in Arabic at Middlebury College.