In snow-covered northern town, freezing residents ‘living in the Stone Age’

The new year in Syria has brought with it frigid temperatures, snow and freezing rain to much of the country’s north including rebel-controlled Azaz, 43km northwest of Aleppo city and 30km south of the Turkish border.

For the first five days of 2016, temperatures in Azaz have hovered at or below freezing, dropping Sunday to -11 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit). Snow blanketed the northern Aleppo countryside, with half an inch of snow accumulating in Azaz on Tuesday.

In order to keep warm in north Aleppo, exorbitant diesel and electricity prices limit one's options, Abu Hussein, 28, a resident of Azaz, tells Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid. Even firewood isn’t cheap, particularly since "you need 20 kilos of it a day" just for heating.

Abu Hussein and his family live in a cement house, and as such, are better off than many of the 57,000 residents of Azaz.

“There are people living in tents; how can they take care of themselves?” asks Abu Hussein.

“In this despicable situation, no one knows what to do,” he said, adding: “I swear to God, I never imagined in my life that people would die from the cold.”

Q: Describe the situation in Azaz right now.

What can I tell you… every day we curse our situation when we see our young brothers and sisters crying from the cold.

Now every house needs two young men in order to get by, one to go out and work and earn money to live, and the other to split the wood and gather it and tend to it like we are living the Stone Age.

My situation now is better than others. After we were displaced from our home, I found a cement house to live in. There are people living in tents; how can they take care of themselves?

Q: How do people keep warm?

Everyone here burns firewood and plastic to make a fire and keep warm. The amount of firewood that a family uses depends on the number of people in the family and on what they can afford. I need 20 kilos of wood per day for heating, and the price per kilo is between SP40 and SP50 (approximately $0.20 and $0.26). I also burn wood and plastic to have enough for the day.

In terms of diesel, we are at the mercy of the traders. The diesel that comes to us from IS-controlled areas is cut off every few days. The process for refining it is primitive and there is a risk that it will explode. The price rises and falls. For example, on Tuesday of this week it was SP200 (approximately $1.06) per liter and Monday it was SP170 ($0.90) per liter.

As for electricity, we all have subscriptions for generators and the cost is charged per ampere. One ampere per day costs SP100 (approximately $0.53).

In this despicable situation, no one knows what to do. I swear to God, I never imagined in my life that people would die from the cold.

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Samuel Kieke

Samuel Kieke was a 2014-2015 CASA I fellow in Amman, Jordan. He received his BA from the University of Texas at Austin in Arabic Language and Literature, Middle Eastern Studies, and International Relations and Global Studies.