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UN’s Answer to Russia’s Ceasefire: “Not Enough for Aleppo”

As hundreds of thousands are left without water in Aleppo, UN pushes for more time

Children displaced from ongoing conflict shelter under makeshift tents on Muhalak highway in the western part of Aleppo, Syria. Photo: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

Infrastructure damages in Aleppo are "coming amid a heat wave, putting children at a grave risk of waterborne diseases," says UNICEF Representative to Syria. As the siege threatens to constitute war crimes if citizens are not allowed aid, Russia grants daily 3 hour ceasefire

In the Syrian city of Aleppo, violence and abysmal conditions have been the norm, with refugees fleeing, and aid being blocked from entering. As airstrikes have decimated the city, crucial infrastructure has been damaged such as lighting and water distribution networks, leaving hundreds of thousands without access to clean water. This crisis, coming at the same time as a massive heat wave in the region, has placed renewed urgency on figuring out how to get convoys carrying clean water, food, and medical supplies to the citizens of Aleppo.

On Monday, the Security Council held an open meeting co-hosted by Permanent Representative of the United States Ambassador Samantha Power, the Acting Permanent Representative of France, Ambassador Alexis Lamek, the Permanent Representative of New Zealand, Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine, Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, and the Acting Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, Ambassador Peter Wilson. (See footage of the meeting here.) Following this meeting, in which the United Nations called for a weekly 48 hour ceasefire to facilitate the distribution of adequate aid, Russia countered on Wednesday, August 10th by offering a daily three hour pause on the fighting. “To guarantee total security for the convoys to Aleppo, there will be humanitarian windows established from 1000 to 1300 local time starting tomorrow during which all military hostilities, aviation strikes and artillery strikes will be halted,” Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy of the Russian army’s general staff told journalists from Press TV. This is progress in terms of moving forward with negotiations- however, many in the humanitarian community are asking if a three hour pause can bring about worthwhile aid.

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Syrian children stand in the entryway of their tent shelter in the Bab Al Salame camp for internally displaced persons in Aleppo Governate. Photo: UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti

In the noon press briefing, Steven O’Brien, Under Secretary General for humanitarian affairs and relief coordinator, was asked by a journalist after the cameras stopped recording,“Is it feasible to deliver aid in 3 hours at Aleppo?” Hesitating before he responded, Mr. O’Brien explained that “To meet that capacity of need you need two (road) lanes and you need to have about 48 hours to get sufficient trucks in. No, it’s not enough.” While some may say that three hours is a large enough window to deliver aid via airdrops, Mr. O’Brien went on to explain that truck convoys are by far the most effective method for getting aid to those in need. “6 weeks of air drops is the equivalent of one truck convoy,” he explained to the journalists. Earlier in the week, Mr. O’Brien had explained to the Security council that “We can deliver [aid] within 24-48 hours if we have safe access,”  and in referring to the damaged water supplies, urged that “The networks… be immediately repaired.” Hanaa Singer, the UNICEF representative in Syria, elaborated on the urgency of the water crisis, stating that “These cuts are coming amid a heat wave, putting children at a grave risk of waterborne diseases” if they are forced to resort to drinking contaminated water.

While the three hour window offered by Russia is a step in the right direction, it’s unlikely that re-building of infrastructure can take place in such a limited window of time. The United Nations appears to be dissatisfied with the offer, and will continue to push for a solid block of time, in which extensive aid and repairs can be administered to the besieged city.

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