By Monica Awad and Basma Ourfali
Aleppo/Damascus, 7 November 2016 – Being born in Aleppo was always considered a rich blessing in 8-year old Huda’s family until violent conflict reduced the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city to rubble. To protect her five children from indiscriminate daily attacks, Huda’s mother Manal fled with them to a neighbourhood on the west side of the city, with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Huda often thinks about her old home. “I remember the glittering stars that decorated my bedroom ceiling,” she says, tears welling in her eyes. “I used to look at them before sleeping. It made me feel happy, imagining that I was in space.”
Now, instead of going to bed peacefully under glowing stars, Huda and hundreds of thousands of other children across Syria sleep to the noise of heavy shelling – it’s a terrifying soundtrack.
Adapting to new living
The war has forced Huda’s family to flee twice. First they moved to a shell of a building where her parents learned how to build a fire for cooking and heating, and how to fetch water from nearby wells. “I felt like I was Robinson Crusoe, living with my family in an un-inhabited place, trying to survive,” explains Huda’s father.
But time in their new home was short lived. “I got used to the house until one day we had to evacuate again,” recalls his wife Manal. “We ran like crazy under fire, I was holding Huda and my husband was carrying our 8-month old baby Mohammed, while our other three girls clung to us.”
Manal put all her efforts into making a family home out of the tiny rented apartment they now live in. Despite having a roof over their heads, life continues to be disrupted as cuts to water and power regularly force them to cope without these essential supplies.
Huda, who dreams of becoming a pediatrician when she grows up, helps her father carry the water on a daily basis from a nearby water filling point, installed by UNICEF. She and her siblings cart heavy loads of water in the blazing summer heat and through cold winter storms. “One day, I was pushing a cart filled with jerry cans home, and as I got close to the house, I lost my balance and slipped,” says Huda. “The cart flipped upside down, and the water spilled all over the street,” she adds, biting her lip as she remembers her anger and frustration.
For children living in one of the deadliest places on earth, this lack of safe water is a continuous threat to their survival. Alongside 100,000 children living in east Aleppo, 9-year old Judy has been robbed of her childhood. Instead of going to school or playing with friends, her life is full of constant stress.
“I fear the sounds of continuous bombing,” she says. “I also worry about lack of water and electricity, especially now we are getting close to winter. We used to bathe every day, but now we can’t.”
Taps running dry
Up to five million people across Syria – about half of whom are children – suffer the consequences of long and sometimes deliberate interruptions to their water supplies. Water cuts and attacks on pumping stations, regularly deny the people of Aleppo water. Since the beginning of the year, some water pumping stations have been out of service for more than 123 days.
In Aleppo, UNICEF and partners have trucked up to 1.5 billion litres of water and delivered more than 4 million litres of fuel to run the four pumping stations. UNICEF has also constructed alternative water sources by building 100 underground water wells; supplied 80 tons of water disinfectant; rehabilitated the water network system; provided more than 15,000 hygiene kits for internally displaced people; and raised the awareness of 100,000 children to the importance of safe water, hygiene and sanitation practices.
“Children in Aleppo are showing extraordinary courage in the face of huge uncertainty,” says Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Representative in Syria. “While we have been able to improve access to safe water for children and families, we have never been able to respond to the one question all children ask: ‘When will this war end?’ I long for the day we can give them the answer.”