© 2023 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Aleppo Daily Life In Failed Cease-Fire: Scarce Supplies, Information Apps As Lifelines


The world is running short of startling language to describe the situation in Aleppo. Stephen O'Brien, the United Nations' head of Humanitarian Affairs, said this week that the Syrian city is, quote, "well into its terrible descent into the pitiless and merciless abyss of a humanitarian catastrophe."

Bombing by Russia intensified in the city. Over the past week, it killed hundreds of people. Secretary of State John Kerry struggled toward diplomatic solutions with his Russian counterparts to no result. Erika Solomon is a reporter for the Financial Times who's covered the war in Syria and joins us from Beirut.

Thanks for being with us.

ERIKA SOLOMON: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: As you can piece it together, how do you describe daily life in Aleppo?

SOLOMON: One of the things that I found really interesting in my reporting this week was I stepped away from the bombing - which, as we all know, is absolutely horrific - to try and figure out exactly what it is that it's like to get through a day in Aleppo. And it was actually kind of stunning talking to people about the moment they wake up and realizing how much time they could calculate they had to get things like water and food.

These are things that aren't a given right now in Aleppo because of the siege that has been imposed on the rebel-held areas of Aleppo. If you can imagine, on top of bombings that don't usually stop until anywhere from 4 to 6 in the morning and you get a break til, maybe, 10 in the morning, you get four to five hours of sleep. And then you start your day looking for medicine, food, water, whatever it is that you don't have.

SIMON: How do they eat?

SOLOMON: Most of the things people are eating are things like pasta, rice, bulgur wheat - things that they've stored up, canned foods. Strangely, one of the few vegetables that are available is eggplant, and I asked a lot of residents why that is. And it seems that early on, when residents got the sense that there was going to be a siege, they started trying to grow vegetables. And apparently, eggplant is easy to grow in an urban setting, and it grows quickly. So I spoke to a lot of people who are very tired of eating eggplant.

And other than that, the only type of green vegetable you might find would maybe be mint or parsley because that's things that you can easily grow - and even that is running short. I spoke to people who were saying that they were already down to two meals a day, and they knew a lot of people who were eating just one, if that.

One of the most heartbreaking moments for me this week was talking to people who described, you know, having to share bread with neighbors that had run out of food and had had to sort of go up to them and say, I'm so sorry, but I haven't eaten in two days. Can you share some bread with me? So if you can imagine people really kind of losing any sense of hope from the skies, from the bombings or even, you know, from just the ability to feed themselves or their children.

SIMON: Yeah. How do you talk to people in Aleppo, Erika?

SOLOMON: Most of us are actually speaking on mobile texting apps, like WhatsApp. So the first thing you do when you wake up - before you try and get water, before you try and get bread - is just to check the WhatsApp groups that you've created with friends and colleagues to find out what's going on in the city and where is being bombed and what that might mean for the place that you're living in.

And for me as a journalist, it means that's the way I speak to them as well. They'll send me messages, videos, pictures. And I kind of try and build a picture of what's going on from those communications.

SIMON: Do you have any idea how many doctors might be left in Aleppo and if they have supplies?

SOLOMON: The World Health Organization says there's about 35 doctors left in Aleppo. The first thing that's really going right now is the machinery. You need generators. So when some of the bombs started hitting this week, suddenly, oxygen machines couldn't work.

And doctors described having to make choices, essentially, about who will live and who will die - choosing between a 70-year-old who needed some kind of treatment and a 3-year-old who, you know, had a whole life ahead of him. And then they have to go and tell people that they've made these choices. So if you can imagine that as well as another really kind of heartbreaking element of what's going on there.

SIMON: Have people in Aleppo - well, do they no longer look to the outside world for help?

SOLOMON: I think that they do really want to get their message out. There's a level of cynicism that is sometimes hard to bear really just watching it as a journalist because everything to them, at this point, seems like a conspiracy. And everything seems like something being done intentionally against them. But obviously, as one of the outsiders, it's hard. There is a sense of resentment there of what they're going through and this feeling that the world has let them down. And that can lead somewhere because, as you probably know, there is an issue with jihadist militant groups in northern Syria, in the rebel-held territories. And that's where these sympathies often end up heading when they feel that the world is ignoring them.

SIMON: Erika Solomon of the Financial Times, thanks so much for being with us.

SOLOMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.