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A ground-level perspective of the Damascus water battle: ‘This is the crucible of war, and it’s an inferno’

Abu Mohammad al-Baradawi has one thing that most residents inside […]

16 January 2017

Abu Mohammad al-Baradawi has one thing that most residents inside the Wadi Barada region lack: a line to the outside world.

As the spokesman for the Wadi Barada Media Center, al-Baradawi has access to a non-governmental satellite Internet channel typically reserved for rebel groups and opposition media. For the remaining population of the nine rebel villages constituting rebel-held Wadi Barada—estimated at up to 100,000 residents—“there is no water, no electricity, no internet and no way at all to communicate.”

On December 22, the Assad regime and allied Hezbollah forces imposed an airtight encirclement on Wadi Barada, a pocket of rebel villages 15km northwest of Damascus. The region is home to the Ein al-Fijeh spring that supplied Damascus with 70 percent of its water supply before the destruction of the area’s primary water-pumping station last month in unclear circumstances.

The blockade of Wadi Barada comes amidst a 26-day military campaign to wrest control of the capital’s largest freshwater source from opposition hands, Syria Direct reported. Over the weekend, pro-regime forces captured the town of Baseema, the first turnover in territory since the start of the Wadi Barada campaign.

Inside these nine opposition-controlled villages, day-to-day life under encirclement resembles similar accounts from east Aleppo before the December surrender.

With encirclement, nothing and no one enters or leaves. Therefore, trapped residents are already facing dire food shortages, says al-Baradawi. Doctors are out of medicine, and amputations are now the “go-to option” in the case of serious injury. Baby formula, flour, clean drinking water are now all either in short supply or are entirely gone, he tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.

“There is no escape.”

Q: Regime and Hezbollah forces have blockaded Wadi Barada for 26 days as fighting between rebel and pro-regime forces kill scores of area residents and displace tens of thousands of others. From your perspective, what does the blockade look like?

For the past 26 days, Wadi Barada has been stripped of the most fundamental necessities of life. There is no water, no electricity, no internet and no way to communicate. Flour has entirely run out, as has baby formula, which has endangered thousands of infants. 

Checkpoints surround Wadi Barada, and there is no escape. This is the crucible of war, and it’s an inferno. This blockade has been going on for a month now, and it encompasses all of Wadi Barada. In turn, residents are resorting to whatever remaining scraps of food they’ve got left in their homes, a few olives, maybe makdous [stuffed, pickled baby eggplant] and whatever little flour for baking that they’ve got left.

There are some people who have lost their homes, their food, everything. These Wadi Barada residents are turning to the land for sustenance, eating both apples and even grass. Fortunately, Wadi Barada happens to have a good number of apple orchards in the area.

Food rationing has become extreme. Residents are eating fewer meals, all in an attempt to make what they do have last for as long as possible.

 Displaced Wadi Barada residents pack into a mosque for shelter on Monday. Photo courtesy of the Wadi Barada Media Center.

Q: How has the blockade affected the medical situation inside Wadi Barada, particularly in those areas that face the most intense fighting? How many doctors remain in Wadi Barada, and what medical resources are in short supply?

There are only 10 doctors and 25 nurses left in all of Wadi Barada, and they’ve gone through almost all of the medicine. The most serious shortages in medicine are those for heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes. Some ill residents have even passed away because they were unable to get their medications.

When it comes to emergency care, doctors are unable to tend to the most serious injuries. In the majority of critical-injury cases, amputation is the go-to option. Waiting is not an option because people will die.

There has also been a noticeable increase in the spread of diseases of recent, particularly amongst children, the elderly and those who have weakened immune systems. Most of these diseases are spreading because there is no longer any clean drinking water available.

Lastly, there are certain individuals who require immediate evacuation to hospitals in Damascus in order to receive emergency surgery. The regime, however, is not allowing anyone to leave Wadi Barada, or anyone to come in for that matter.

It’s heartbreaking to say, but if these people do not receive the treatment that they need, it’s very likely that they will die.

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