Two million people in the contested Syrian city of Aleppo lack access to running water because of escalated fighting, the United Nations said Tuesday, beseeching all combatants to declare a humanitarian pause to permit emergency deliveries of aid and to fix damaged pumps.
“The U.N. is extremely concerned that the consequences will be dire for millions of civilians if the electricity and water networks are not immediately repaired,” the organization said in a statement.
“The U.N. stands ready to assist the civilian population of Aleppo, a city now united in its suffering,” the statement said. “At a minimum, the U.N. requires a full-fledged cease-fire or weekly 48-hour humanitarian pauses to reach the millions of people in need throughout Aleppo and replenish the food and medicine stocks, which are running dangerously low.”
The statement also denounced the military targeting of hospitals and clinics, which it said “continues unabated, seriously jeopardizing the health and welfare of all citizens of Aleppo.”
The fighting in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the civil war that began more than five years ago, escalated sharply over the weekend, when rebel forces and their jihadi allies challenged the government’s siege of insurgent-held districts. They severed the primary government supply route to Aleppo, effectively isolating the entire city.
Roughly 275,000 people in insurgent-held eastern Aleppo have been under siege by Syrian forces and their Russian military partners since July. The rebel advance put civilians in government-held western Aleppo at risk, increasing the total population under threat to about 2 million.
The crisis worsened as the U.N. Security Council was briefed privately by the special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and the top humanitarian aid official, Stephen O’Brien. De Mistura, who has been seeking to restart peace talks, did not speak publicly afterward, but diplomats told reporters later that he did not foresee a resumption of talks in August.
O’Brien, who spoke outside the council’s chambers after his appearance, said he had told council diplomats of “the horrific humanitarian situation in Aleppo, where fighting rages and 2 million people live in fear of besiegement.”
He said children were especially vulnerable from the water crisis and that wells drilled in the city were “not nearly enough to sustain the population.”
O’Brien also said there had been no emergency deliveries to Aleppo this month, despite a previously negotiated agreement for humanitarian access. “This was not in line with the plan,” he said.
He said aid delivery teams for the United Nations were “ready to roll” if a humanitarian pause could be enforced, but for now it was too dangerous “even for the very brave people on the ground — they are brave, but they are not suicidal.”