April 16, 2014
Last week, activists on social media began a “Save Aleppo” campaign from what the Western-backed Syrian opposition has labeled a “genocide” of unceasing Syrian air bombardment that blocks access to humanitarian aid groups.
“Indiscriminate bombing on such a scale, of such a savagery, undermines attempt at relief,” said journalist Francesca Borri in a report for the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of dozens of international aid groups working to provide aid to the city.
Rebel-controlled areas may have it the worst. With no public services and over-stretched rebels fending off regime attacks, civilians are left to organize and provide for themselves. They often lack the equipment or funding to ensure basic services such as trash removal and must similarly balance relationships with different rebel groups.
One such group, the Aleppo Civil Defense Units (CDUs), was founded in March 2013 in Aleppo’s Hanano neighborhood, and quickly spread to 14 centers across the province. Osama Abu Zeid spoke with CDU leader Khaled Hajjo, whose organization concentrates on the grim yet indispensable tasks in a city under fire: “rescuing the injured, extricating corpses and extinguishing fires.”
Q: What do you try to accomplish, specifically? Do you coordinate with the Local Coordination Committees and humanitarian organizations?
The jurisdictions of the Civil Defense are rescuing injured people, extricating corpses, extinguishing fires, working to eliminate the dangers from buildings that look like they might fall, creating awareness campaigns for civilians to reduce the effects of shelling and evacuating civilians from areas under shelling. Recently, a number of humanitarians fronts have started supporting the Civil Defense with humanitarian aid and clothing, like all the local charity commissions.
Syrian woman shields her face from debris amidst shelling. Photo courtesy of Aleppo Media Center.
Q: How many Civil Defense Councils are in Aleppo province? What challenges does the Civil Defense face in rebel-controlled areas?
The difficulties are the absence of heavy vehicles, a shortage of manpower, the lack of vehicles to transport men to areas where there has been shelling, a shortage of rescue equipment, the lack of coordination and cooperation between fronts in the area, and no training for the workers on our team.
Q: Do the Civil Defense Units have any connection to the local or national councils?
It coordinates directly with the local council in providing services to the city. There is no coordination between the Civil Defense Units in Aleppo and other governorates.
Q: How have you worked to improve your financial situation? Have you received aid from any foreign entities?
Of course, we explained our needs and difficulties through the media and received aid from foreign civilian organizations. The Charity Coalition, the Ataa’ team, the Coordination and Support Unit, the Abrar Charity and USAID have supported us with a number of vehicles, bulldozers and fire extinguishers.
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