“We just lie under blankets because it is so cold. We have no work, no money and no life,” said Omar Abu Mohammed, 55, one of the few remaining residents of his badly bombed neighborhood, as he prepared to head indoors for the night.
“It is time to go now because soon there will be snipers,” he added, as a shell boomed softly in the distance.
Shells are exploding somewhere in Aleppo most of the time, but after five months of fighting, people have become inured to the ever-present threat. Rain and cloudy skies have deterred warplanes, providing some relief from the airstrikes that can wipe out whole apartment buildings, along with their inhabitants, in an instant.
But the onset of this second winter since Syrians rose up against their government 22 months ago is bringing new calamity to a people already ground down by violence and war. Hunger, cold and disease are emerging as equally profound challenges in the desperate daily struggle that life has become for millions, not only in Aleppo but across Syria, where the quest for greater freedoms sparked by the Arab Spring has gone badly, horribly wrong.
“You can hide from the shelling, but if your child is hungry and there is no bread, what can you do?” asked Abdullah Awuf, 29, a driver who struggles to feed his infant son amid sky-high prices for fuel and food.
Aleppo is not the only place in Syria where conditions are dire. Across the country, reports are emerging of people foraging for food in garbage, stripping buildings for firewood and queuing for hours for scarce bread as the government-run distribution network breaks down.
The United Nations appealed last week for $1.5 billion to help 4.5 million needy Syrians, a record amount for an emergency, said Panos Moumtzis, the regional relief coordinator for the U.N. refugee agency. This one is unfolding almost entirely out of sight because most places are too dangerous or inaccessible for aid workers or journalists to visit.
Most of the relief money, $1 billion, will be spent to help the 500,000 refugees who have fled to neighboring countries. An additional 4 million people inside Syria are estimated to be in need of food and medical assistance.
But because the government restricts U.N. access to areas controlled by the regime, those living in rebel-held territory can expect to see little help.
A city of battle lines
In the parts of Aleppo under rebel control, the misery is manifest. Fighters with the Free Syrian Army surged into the city in July hoping for a quick victory after ejecting government forces from much of the surrounding countryside. But their offensive was ill-planned and premature, and it quickly stalled, leaving the city carved into a patchwork of front lines across which the two sides shoot and shell one another, along with any civilians in the way.