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Revealed: The daily struggle for survival for Syria's besieged citizens

As the ceasefire agreement in Syria continues - albeit with reports of numerous violations - life for its war-weary citizens goes on.

Humam, a film-maker who lives in the East Ghouta region, risks his life every day - but said he believes his work is vital to let the world know what is happening in the country.

Here, he shines a light on the struggle for survival for those still within Syria's devastated borders.

  • Food, water and medical supplies

East Ghouta has been under siege for almost three years now.

I remember when the World Food Programme staff were on a United Nations mission here. I was telling them how scarce everything is and how insanely expensive, and one of them asked me: How do people survive?

I didn't know how to answer that question.

Part of the answer is that not all everyone has, and I have witnessed how many have died because of the lack of food and medicine. Most of them are children.

East Ghouta is an agricultural territory in the suburbs of Damascus, and has been under the control of armed opposition since November 2012.

Since we are besieged by [President Bashar] al-Assad's forces, anything which enters East Ghouta comes from Assad's side - meaning the region gets all its needs from its enemy, and so our money ultimately ends up in Assad's hands.

The real problem is the shortage of medical aides and supplies, as the regime has never allowed these to enter aside from a very few times through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. The territory needs a lot of these every day due to the daily shelling, and many injured people have died because of the lack of blood transfusion bags and serums.

An aid convoy of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent enters the Wafideen Camp, which is controlled by Syrian government forces, to deliver aid into the rebel-held besieged Douma neighborhood Credit: Reuters

Vaccines also are not allowed through enough, so we've seen many children fall ill with polio or other illnesses.

The regime doesn't give the option to people here to buy what they want, and since everything is scarce, people will take anything the regime offers at any price, no matter how high. For example, last winter, the regime allowed tonnes of the worst kinds of barley into the region. It five Syrian pounds for 1kg in Damascus or less, but cost the people in East Ghouta about 250 Syrian pounds.

There are times when the regime prevents anything from entering, and other times when many things are allowed to enter, so the food shortages vary from time to time.

Meanwhile, drinking water has been cut from regime side, and people don't get it at all in here. They try to filter the water that they get from well they dig in the ground, and they use different kind of pumps to get it from the wells without a need for electricity for the pumps.

In summer, people suffer from many diseases and fevers because of the dirty water.

People collect water from water from a well in Arbeen, East Ghouta Credit: Reuters
  • Electricity

Most people now in East Ghouta have become used to life without electricity all the time.

There are big generators in the city, which each provide a number of houses with electricity for about two hours a day.

Not all people can pay for these two hours of electricity everyday as it cost about $20 (£14) weekly, and this might vary due to the fuel shortage in the territory.

If they can afford it, people use it mainly for three things:

  • Charging their batteries, and electronic devices
  • Laundry
  • To get water from pumps

Nobody uses refrigerators or air conditioners or TVs - or any kind of electric devices which demand a high voltage electricity.

For some big facilities that demands power all the time, like hospitals, they have their own generators.

Some have learnt to use some other alternative power sources like solar power.

An activist holds a sign protesting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Credit: Reuters
  • Shelling

The population of East Ghouta in January 2013 was over a million - it is now less than 450,000.

Zamalka and other towns here were targeted with chemical weapons in August 2013 and over 1,400 were killed in that attack alone.

There were no specific timings for the shelling, it has been really random with so many kinds of different weapons: Barrel bombs, surface to surface missiles of different sizes, mortars, cluster bombs, thermobaric bombs, and air raids with many different kinds of weapons.

The attacks have been so common that most people here, especially children, have become able to differentiate between the various kinds of weapons based on the launching or the explosion noise.

People also have been able to differentiate between the models of war planes, or whether it is Syrian or Russian, based on the noise it makes.

Food stalls set up near bomb-ravaged buildings in the rebel held al-Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo Credit: Reuters

Sometimes shelling was more intense, especially when it is accompanied by the heavy clashes between the rebels and Assad's forces. Usually Assad's forces retaliated with shelling on civilians when the rebels started an offence on Damasus, so people will ask the rebels not to do that.

Shelling has also often been more intense when there are political talks or negotiations over Syria. Many of the deadliest recent attacks happened during the Geneva talks.

Previously, in winter or on cloudy days, people would be relieved as the Syrian Air Force could not fly when there was cloud cover. However, after the Russian intervention this has changed, and it doesn't matter wither it is a cloudy or a sunny day.

The Russian Air Force is also much more accurate than the Syrian Air Force, which hits its targets blindly.

It means that now, it doesn't matter to people how frequently the shelling is done, as they don't have any means to protect themselves.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (pictured) are at war with rebel fighters Credit: Reuters

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