The Battle of Aleppo
Beginning in 2012 and concluding in 2016, the Battle of Aleppo has been a major war of attrition in the fight against the so-called Islamic State as well as served as a major impediment to the Astana Peace Process. Often dubbed ‘Syria’s Stalingrad’, the city of Aleppo is still reeling from the social, economic, and political ramifications of the offensive since the ceasefire deal reached last year in 2016.

With the death toll currently standing at over 31,000, many individuals continue to face the threat of internal displacement, diseases, and other human rights violations.

Aleppo in the Syrian Economy 

Aleppo, an important city with a population of 2.3 million individuals, used to make up a notable part of Syria’s GDP in the past with its economic potential. Approximately, 60 percent of the city has been devastated — a significant proportion of that destruction being landmark cultural and heritage sites. As if infrastructure mistreatment wasn’t enough, the Battle of Aleppo was also infamously known for the rebels’ use of civilians as human shields and other forms of modern slavery.

According to the World Bank Group, the economic cost of the war comes to €200 billion so far. Over 1 million people were forced to flee the city — an influx to Europe that contributed significantly to the 2015 European Migrant Crisis. Consequently, since the beginning of 2017 alone, 300,000 people residing in Aleppo were forced to leave the city.

Humanitarian Aid

During the Battle of Aleppo, a significant number of humanitarian aid initiatives were spearheaded by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2165 was instrumental in ratifying the supply of aid to the country, particularly across border crossings and other obstacles.

In October 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported casualties that amounted to the hundreds. Many schools and hospitals were destroyed in the crossfire of the combat against the Islamic State and other extremist groups in the country. Rural areas in the country faced especially damaging impacts since over 27 percent of Syrian homes were destroyed during the course of the Battle of Aleppo.

The U.N. has recommended that over $3.5 billion is needed to cover the social, economic and human costs of the Syrian Civil War. This figure means that Aleppo will hopefully be given a greater focus and priority in the future through the globe’s increased channeling of funding and resources.

Humanitarian aid is taking on a pivotal role in order to address the situation’s immediate needs. Russian military officers have delivered a batch totaling 1.3 billion tons of aid and, as a part of the initiative, 300 sets of food were also provided. Similarly, Iran also delivered humanitarian aid to rural areas of Aleppo with an aid convoy of 200 tons of food, clothing and medicine for affected civilians.

Aid Efforts 

Various aid organizations currently address water and sanitation needs by equipping households with water tanks as full supply has still not been restored in many communities. Moreover, UNICEF has delivered water to over 700,000 individuals in Aleppo and aids in the maintenance of water storage tanks in the city.

Currently, the reconstruction of the city and resettlement of civilians in the future remains top priorities for various stakeholders, as many returning civilians come home to a city in ruination. To date, over 332,000 individuals have returned to Aleppo so far.

Based in the city of Budapest is the humanitarian program of the Aleppo Project, which acts as a large collaboration between various refugees, students and experts. The organization is active in Lebanon and Turkey and works concertedly to restore the city to order. Their focus on the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is the establishment of a participatory planning system that will help continue the present post-crisis restoration of the entire city. Within the city, the UNHCR is providing returning civilians with items like protective equipment to help them regain control of their lives.

With the city of Aleppo continuing to act as a major epicenter of the Syrian civil war, safe passages and avenues are needed for the affected and the vulnerable to remain protected. At this juncture, sustainable aid is thus required in order to have an effective solution to the crisis and mitigate negative impacts.

– Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Syrian Hospitals Go UndergroundThe Syrian civil war has been and continues to be, devastating. Since its inception in 2011, bombings and raids have displaced thousands upon thousands from the country. However, not everyone has the choice to flee. In fact, some have been rendered unable to leave the country because of injuries caused by warfare. This has placed a new burden on doctors in the area. How are medical staff supposed to effectively treat patients when bombs frequently and intentionally strike the hospitals in Syria? Some doctors have a solution: having Syrian hospitals go underground.

Mahmoud Hariri is a surgeon, born and raised in Syria, who has faced the consequences of war on Syrian healthcare. He reports having once seen a patient pull a tube out of his own body in order to evacuate the hospital he was receiving care in because it was being bombed—again. Hariri spoke of the complications that these forced evacuations cause, particularly for the often unconscious patients in the intensive care units. As many of the hospitals are without elevators, doctors and support staff are left with no choice but to carry these critical patients down the stairs.

To save patients and allow medical workers to provide better care without the risk of bombings forcing evacuations, entire hospitals have been relocated into basements and caves. In essence, hospitals are using makeshift, military-style fortifications so operations can endure the bombs falling above. If a hospital chooses to stay in the buildings above the surface, they are building concrete walls and even creating “sacrificial” floors to take the brunt of the aerial attacks.

As Syrian hospitals go underground and construct protective structures, the question of financing the relocations and fortifications arises. The United States and U.N. grants are largely responsible for making these expensive projects possible. However, as the U.S. considers a drastic budget cut to the International Affairs Budget, worried aid groups are wondering how to fill the potential void caused by reduced funding.

Currently, around 25 underground facilities are in operation. However, each facility can cost $800,000 to $1.5 million depending on what the hospital needs. As a result, doctors have turned to crowdfunding in a desperate attempt to continue the construction of these makeshift facilities before any official aid is lost. Even if aid continues, the regulations on how foreign aid can be spent have caused a few problems. For example, the construction itself is deemed “development,” not a humanitarian expenditure.

The good news is in the last six years, over $1.7 million has been collected by pooling funds. While the U.N. remains the main source of financial support, the French government has provided nearly $500,000 and over $2.5 has been given by private donors and Syrian NGO grants.

Syria has a long way to go. As the civil war is ongoing with no definite end in sight, medical access remains a high priority to those still in Syria. The request for pooled aid in 2017 alone was over $500 million. In order to continue to provide this much-needed care in a war zone, the medical staff is relying on the U.S., the U.N. and all the other donors to continue supporting them. It is essential that Syrian hospitals go underground. Otherwise, proper medical care simply will not be able to keep up with the needs of war-torn cities like Aleppo.

Taylor Elkins

Photo: Flickr

Schools In Aleppo
Thousands of individuals and families are returning to eastern Aleppo after months of displacement. The U.N. estimates that since the beginning of February, over 40,000 people have moved back to the area. Despite the joy of being able to return home, the war-torn city remains in ruin.

An estimated 1.8 million people in and around Aleppo lack access to clean water. The supply was cut off in the middle of January. The weather in Syria is extremely cold during this time of year, and most houses have no windows or doors. The U.N. is providing assistance in the form of sleeping mats and plastic sheets to cover open windows. Nonetheless, most remain unable to find the same comfort in their homes as they used to.

There is one beacon of hope that remains despite these horrors: the promise of education. Schools in Aleppo are gradually reopening after being destroyed by bombing. Thousands of children require remedial classes to reintegrate into the schooling system. More importantly, these students need to rebuild their confidence.

Close to half of the schools in eastern Aleppo are damaged in some way. However, the process of rebuilding is ongoing. UNICEF is playing a vital role in ensuring that children have access to education in the area. The organization is working hard to reopen and secure safe access to schools in Aleppo.

UNICEF is assessing which former schools can still be used for educational purposes. Roughly 23 primary schools have reopened since the beginning of 2017, and the number continues to grow. Prefabricated classrooms have also been set up for overflows of students who don’t have access to safe buildings.

In some areas of Aleppo, UNICEF has provided “schools in a box” and recreational kits to 90,000 children. Almost 300 teachers have received special training to help children catch up after long periods of missed education.

Children can supplement their education with classes in 70 child service spaces opened by UNICEF. The spaces allow children to play while also providing education on how to stay safe in a war-torn environment. Clinics in these spaces have taught over 60,000 people life-saving information, including how to recognize explosives.

Despite the cold and often uncomfortable conditions inside these makeshift classrooms, children are extremely excited to be getting back into a familiar routine. It is estimated that 1.7 million children in Syria are still not in school. However, the progress being made thus far provides hope that soon all returning children will have access to schools in Aleppo.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr


Aleppo Residents
As civil war rages on in Syria, residents of the country’s largest city have been forced to flee to surrounding areas. For former Aleppo residents, these evacuations present a new series of challenges and dangers.

Many of these evacuees have fled to the Syrian countryside, Lebanon, or the Turkish border town of Idlib. Lebanon hosts more than 1 million Syrian refugees, yet most evacuees from Aleppo have been transferred to Idlib, inundating the already war-weary area with traumatized and often severely injured evacuees.

Idlib, which is one of the few remaining rebel-held areas in the country, is likely to become the next target as the regime attempts to recapture the country. Rebel fighters from Aleppo are moving to Idlib along with civilians as the regime recaptures large swaths of the country.

For former Aleppo residents in Idlib, however, simply securing housing has been an immense challenge. Evacuees describe exorbitant rent prices and a cold reception from Idlib residents. For former Aleppo residents who lost most of their belongings in the siege and face unemployment, rent prices that can reach $187 a month are often far out of reach. Some evacuees describe conditions where several families are cramped into one house, and those who still cannot afford rent are forced to move to nearby border camps.

As Aleppo residents settle into Idlib and its surrounding camps, the extent of their trauma is becoming quickly evident. Surgeon Mounir Hakimi described children from Aleppo who face amputation or who have shrapnel lodged in their spines. Some have lost vision from the bombing and doctors in Idlib are seeing many patients with seriously infected wounds. In addition, many are suffering from hypothermia and malnutrition.

Even those who escaped Aleppo without serious injury face psychological trauma. In one case, a three-year-old boy was unable to speak due to the shock of the airstrikes. Idlib has seen serious bombing in the past few years, and as a result, its medical infrastructure is sadly reminiscent of Aleppo’s. Many aid workers who left with Aleppo residents intend to continue their work in Idlib. For groups like the Syrian Defence Force who rescued civilians in Aleppo, Idlib is simply a place to continue their work. One Defence Force member expressed the group’s commitment to the residents of Idlib, pointing out that the city had been bombed for the past five years and was unlikely to see a respite in the near future.

Many see Idlib as the next target for the regime now that Aleppo has been recaptured. Airstrikes have inundated Idlib in recent weeks, and dozens of deaths have been reported in the region. In addition, experts believe that as the regime recaptures more territory, the city will be forced to take in further waves of evacuees. This will further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, and for many former Aleppo residents, the town will provide a continuation of their suffering instead of a much-needed respite.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Education in Aleppo
The Syrian civil war is now in its fifth year, but Stephen O’Brien, the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, believes that the current fighting in Aleppo, Syria represents “the apex of horror at its most horrific extent of the suffering of people.” No group is more vulnerable to this horror than the children of Aleppo, who do not have access to fresh food, clean water, shelter, or medical care. Needless to say, education in Aleppo is also not the highest priority.

The fighting in Aleppo has not slowed, even after the recent photo of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old boy who was pulled from the rubble of his former home, went viral. Following the image’s release, Russia, the main ally of al-Assad’s regime, swore that it would enact a 48-hour ceasefire, but the combat has continued.

Control in Aleppo is split between rebels in the east and the Syrian government in the west. The 275,000 civilians in eastern Aleppo have not been able to receive any aid, while scarce amounts of goods have reached the 1.5 million in western Aleppo. According to an article published by TIME, there is “an estimated 75,000 children fighting to survive in eastern Aleppo”.

Education in Aleppo has suffered because of the danger that children are put in when they try to attend school. Save the Children reported that in the month of August 16 schools that they support have been hit or affected by bombings.

While UNICEF is fighting on many fronts in Aleppo, their most prominent initiative is providing children from the war-torn city with a proper education. In a recent article, UNICEF shared that it has built 130 prefabricated classrooms throughout Aleppo.

Unfortunately, one of UNICEF’s crowning achievements in their education campaign has recently become another victim to the fighting in Aleppo. UNICEF’s intermediary school in the 1070 neighborhood was severely damaged by bombings that began on July 31. The all girls’ school had 32 prefabricated classrooms with 2,500 students enrolled.

The 1,070 school offered hope to many children in the western Aleppo neighborhood, which is made up of thousands of displaced families. Though this tragedy is horrific, it does not signal the end of UNICEF’s campaign. The organization plans to rebuild these classrooms and is collaborating with Syrian officials on self-learning programs that will restore education in Aleppo.

Liam Travers

Photo: Flickr