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‘All the elements of life depend on electricity’: Aleppo in the dark for 10th day

AMMAN: In Syria’s sprawling second city, residents of both regime […]

3 November 2015

AMMAN: In Syria’s sprawling second city, residents of both regime and rebel-held neighborhoods have been without power for at least 10 days as a result of fighting between the Victory Army and regime forces in the northern Hama countryside that cut the supply of electricity to Aleppo’s sole functioning power station.

“There is no electricity in Aleppo,” says Hanaa al-Qassab, the president of the Aleppo-based Syrian Women’s Association, which offers literacy courses, vocational training and other pragmatic skills to Aleppo’s women.

The Jabhat a-Nusra-led General Management of Services (GMS), which works to maintain and repair water, electricity and sewage services in and around rebel-held Aleppo reported “the continuation of the power outage in the city of Aleppo and its southern and western countryside for the 10th day in a row” on Tuesday.

GMS personnel work to repair power lines in Aleppo after Russian bombardment on Saturday. Photo courtesy of GSM.

Comments by Aleppo residents asking when power will return to the city are overwhelming the General Management’s Facebook page.

For now, the answer appears to be not any time soon. The 230 kilovolt Hama-Zurbah high-voltage power line extends from the regime-held Mahardeh power plant 110km southwest of Aleppo to the rebel-held Zurbah substation 12km southwest of the city. Zurbah went dark in late October.

This past Sunday, regime forces in the northern Hama countryside “prevented the entry” of repair teams looking to service the line, the GMS said in a statement, but did not elaborate.   

The Syrian government’s Ministry of Electricity said its personnel had replaced a tower along one Hama line supplying Aleppo’s Zurbah station with power last Thursday, though Aleppo remains in the dark.

Amidst the loss of power, “the regime-controlled areas in Aleppo are enduring same sufferings as liberated areas,” said Hanaa Qassab, who lives in the rebel-held Salaheddin district.

Even before the most recent loss of power, residents reported regular power outages lasting 20 hours and longer. Electricity would come “for a couple of hours and sometimes not at all” from the Zurbah sub-station, Walid al-Halabi, a resident of a regime-controlled district in Aleppo told Syria Direct.

“The power line for the rebel-held areas is the same line as that of the regime, which is from the Hama station,” Ammar al-Halabi, an Aleppo media activist told Syria Direct Monday. “That means that if power doesn’t come to opposition areas, then it doesn’t come to the regime.”

This shared infrastructure sets Aleppo apart from other parts of the country where activists in rebel-held areas allege that the regime exercises a “policy of collective punishment” by “cutting off the electricity to areas it no longer controls,” as Ibrahim a-Shimali, a Hama-based journalist told Syria Direct in a recent interview.

Control of central Aleppo city, once the commercial capital of Syria, is split between rebel forces holding most northern, eastern and southern neighborhoods and regime forces holding districts to the west. In the surrounding countryside, Victory Army rebels hold territory to the north, west and far south, with regime forces located immediately east and south of the city.

‘All the elements of life depend on electricity’

Fighting between regime and FSA rebel forces since 2012 has left Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, a shadow of its former self—its world-famous souks destroyed, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced and neighborhoods reduced to rubble by regime bombings and rebel shelling.

The war has also devastated the city’s infrastructure, leaving those who remain trapped in a daily struggle to secure access to water, food and power.

“All the elements of life depend on electricity,” said Qassab of the Syrian Women’s Association.

“Before, women used to store extra meat, dairy and other foods in the refrigerator for fear of blockade and starvation,” she said.

Furthermore, “the water pumps are powered by electricity, leading to a water crisis,” Qassab said, as residents resort to drinking well water that is “polluted and not suitable for drinking, leading to many cases of poisoning and illnesses amongst the children and the elderly.”

In the regime and rebel areas of Aleppo alike, the humming of large-capacity fuel powered generators has become a familiar counterpoint to the sounds of daily life, as residents “turn to generators and the ampere system,” Aleppo-based activist Ammar al-Halabi told Syria Direct.

Civilian traders in the city buy generators that can power up to 200 houses. Households “subscribe” to networks and pay a monthly sum depending on how many amperes, or amps, of electricity they consume. For those who can’t pay, life continues without electricity.

“Those people have grown accustomed to the darkness, which has become a part of life,” Qasseb said.

Despite expanding fighting around Aleppo, and after years without steady electricity and water, Aleppo’s residents say that they, as their ancient city, will endure.

“This darkness,” Qassab said, “which is not limited to lighting, which includes our water, our homes and our schools, will not affect our will.” 

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