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2 Million Residents Of War-Ravaged Aleppo Now Without Running Water

Buildings and debris in Aleppo's Darat Izza district, in Syria, on Sunday.
Alm Aldeen Al Sabbagh/Anadolu Agency
Getty Images
Buildings and debris in Aleppo's Darat Izza district, in Syria, on Sunday.

The water pumps in Aleppo, Syria, are no longer getting power, leaving 2 million people without running water — and at risk of coming under a full siege.

The United Nations is calling for an immediate halt to the fighting and at minimum a two-day weekly humanitarian cease-fire to allow for the city's water and electrical systems to be repaired. But there's another round of fighting ongoing in the strategically significant city.

Aleppo is divided in two: the rebel-held east and government-held west. But for civilians, it's "a city now united in its suffering," as U.N. officials put it.

A few days ago, rebels forces claimed significant gains. They said they broke a government siege on the east side and also cut off the main access road to the west side.

"Syrian state media say government and Russian warplanes continue to target rebel positions," NPR's Alison Meuse reports from Beirut. "And rebels, led by a former al-Qaida affiliate, are vowing to take the entire city."

The U.N. says more than 2 million residents are essentially trapped in Aleppo — the largest city in Syria, and formerly the country's biggest financial and commercial hub. Both sides of the city are maintaining "tenuous supply lines," Alison says, but there's fear of a full siege.

And now the U.N. is raising the alarm over access to potable water. Aleppo lost its running water supply on July 31, after attacks on an electricity transmission station that powers the city's pumps, UNICEF said in a statement. Another power line to the pumps was installed on Aug. 4.

But less than a day later, the new power line was also damaged, and intense battling has prevented new repairs. Taps have now been dry for eight of the past nine days.

"These cuts are coming amid a heat wave, putting children at a grave risk of waterborne diseases," Hanaa Singer, the UNICEF representative in Syria, said in the statement.

Without running water, UNICEF says, "civilians will be forced to resort to unsafe water sources."

Pockets of Aleppo have already been without access to the public water system.

In besieged eastern Aleppo, an estimated 300,000 people have been relying on potentially contaminated well water, UNICEF says. The aid group says it has not been able to get access to deliver emergency water.

In western Aleppo, aid groups have been delivering emergency water to an estimated 325,000 people.

The U.N. News Service notes that there isn't enough water in the city's tanks and wells for all the city's residents. Two senior officials said they worry the "the consequences will be dire" if electricity and water are not restored.

The officials — Yacoub El Hillo and Kevin Kennedy — also said that the targeting of hospitals and clinics "continues unabated, seriously jeopardizing the health and welfare of all citizens of Aleppo."

In late July, Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF, described attacks on four hospitals in eastern Aleppo in just one week.

One of those hospitals had been bombed a month before, and recently reopened, the aid group wrote:

"Just days later, on July 23, an airstrike on the building next door damaged the hospital again. The staff began referring patients to another hospital that was also hit shortly afterward. During the first minutes of chaos, the two hospitals were referring patients to each other while simultaneously being struck."

On Monday, MSF said a hospital it supports in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province was "destroyed by aerial bombing" over the weekend.

The attack reportedly killed 13 people, including five children. The hospital specialized in pediatrics and served 70,000 people, the aid group says.

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Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.