Aleppo Under Siege: Waiting for Break or Pause - “We have suffered too much here”

ALEPPO CITY UPDATE 05/08: Rationing Aid and Food

PIN beneficiaries receiving freely daily bread in east Aleppo. Photo: PIN archive

Humanitarian aid convoys continue to be prevented from bringing essential food and medical supplies into the east of Aleppo. As the siege nears one month, the suffering continues unabated. The estimated 300,000 civilians face ever limited access to food, medicine and shelter as their homes, hospitals, markets, bakeries, businesses, and schools are reduced to rubble. Families have reduced the number of meals per day, and in the absence of fruit, meat and vegetables in the market they are relying more and more on meals of lentils, bulgur and oil to keep them going.

In recent weeks, the suffering has been furthered compounded by continued attacks against humanitarian stocks, including attacks against NGO convoys, warehouses and stocks of food kits. In an effort to address a growing number of security challenges and a decreasing supply of food and fuel, the city council in coordination with local and international NGOs has been working to strategically ration the decreasing food supply, so as to reach as many people as possible in the most effective way.

In Aleppo City, People in Need (PIN) sources report there are now only 25 bakeries in operation: 20 supported by the city council, 4 supported by NGOs and 1 privately owned. Yaser, the Deputy Head of Aleppo city council told PIN that:

“The local council of the city has been supporting twenty bakeries. Before the besiegement there were 37 bakeries. Of course the local council receives support from humanitarian organizations and People in Need is one of these organizations. All the support from the international community helps to keep the price of bread affordable for the people affected by the siege.”

The city council-supported bakeries serve 30–33,000 families in the city with a bread packet of 7–8 pieces every two days. This bread packet is sold at the subsidized price of 100SYP. Before the war, the same amount of bread cost 10SYP. The typical family consists of between 6–8 family members, which means that each person is receiving half a piece of bread per day. And these are among the luckier ones.

The private bakery currently sells bread for between 225SYP and 250SYP. The bread is sold at the cheaper price to the first customers. There are huge queues for the bread at the private bakery, and the price quickly jumps up to 250SYP as demand outweighs supply. The long queues are also seen as tempting targets for airstrikes, making the purchasing of bread dangerous and stressful. Couple this with an outside temperature of 40 degrees Celsius every day with only sporadic shade. PIN’s M&E team explains that there are three types of people in the morning queues at the private bakery: members of large families for whom bread quantities from the local council or NGOs is insufficient; young boys buying the bread early to sell later at increased prices; and everyone else.

PIN supports one of the remaining 4 NGO-supported bakeries. Here, all flour, fuel and operational costs are paid for by PIN’s donor - the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). PIN pre-positioned flour inside the city before the siege to ensure that the much needed bread could be distributed this month. This week, PIN was able to resume its distribution of free bread to 3,000 families in besieged eastern Aleppo city. When this current distribution is complete, PIN will have no more supplies inside Aleppo City and will no longer be able to support families through bread as the siege continues. Getting stocks into the city via Castello road, the only road in and out of east Aleppo City, was an extremely difficult feat as it was under daily attack for the weeks prior to it being completely cut.

Hussein, the head of PIN’s local partner Basamat says: “Before the siege, people were worried that the price of bread would double, become unavailable or bakeries stop producing which would mean people would have to prepare bread at home using very primitive and traditional methods. Indeed we now see that some bakeries have stopped and the stock of bread has decreased. After four weeks of besiegement, PIN, through Basamat, this week started distributing free bread in order to help the those most in need and alleviate their suffering. The people were very happy with this as the cost of living has increased greatly after the besiegement. This helps them save a small amount of money to be spent on other necessary and expensive things like buying food and medicines.”

It seems that there are three possibilities on the horizon for the besieged population: the opposition forces break the siege through advances in the Aleppo Southern countryside, the 48 hour ceasefires come into effect, or the stalemate continues. For now, the option presented in the form of ‘the humanitarian corridors’ is not viable and mass exit has not materialized.

The UN is currently trying to negotiate 48 hour ‘pauses’ in the conflict to allow humanitarian aid to enter the city freely and guarantee safe access. Sadly however, previous ‘pauses’ and ‘ceasefires’ have not been respected on the ground, as such there is no guarantees that if these ‘pauses’ eventuate humanitarian trucks will be able to safely enter.

Should the ‘pauses’ come into play, as a humanitarian organization that has been working in Aleppo for a number of years implementing both directly and through partners, PIN are of the opinion that restoring and increasing previous and ongoing operations will be preferable to delivering aid via an alternative or new modality. The reasons for this are that there is already the capacity in place, actors who have been working cross border have the background knowledge of local and international actors present there, as well as the trust of the local communities.

Speaking to a contact in Aleppo City, PIN asked: “If the siege is broken, what will you do?”

“My god, if the siege is broken, we will leave. Most of us, we will leave. We have suffered too much here, especially in the last few days of the fighting. The planes fly over constantly. We will evacuate.”

Eleanor McClelland, PIN Regional Communications and Advocacy Officer

Sari Haj Jneid, PIN Field Communications Officer in Syria