Syrians who have yet to flee the war in Aleppo are facing another problem that is growing more acute by the day: hunger.
As the prices of what little is available soar, there are increasing signs of desperation among parents seeking to feed families in a city where fighting between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels shows no sign of abating.
At a makeshift hospital set up to treat the wounded, a doctor said some were seeking food rather than medicine.
“People are coming to us now as a charity,” said the doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “A woman came inside and we thought she needed medical attention, but instead she asked for food,” said the doctor. “She said her family hadn’t eaten for days and she had no money to buy anything.”
Shortages of fuel and food combined with rocketing prices are compounding the misery of Syrians in a city under bombardment and where streets are piled high with rotting garbage and the bodies of people killed in crossfire lay uncollected in the streets.
“I am not worried whether a humanitarian crisis will occur. It has already started,” said Fawzi Zakri, a member of the Syrian National Council, an opposition group, who was visiting the city. “There is a real humanitarian crisis in Aleppo.”
In an incident illustrating the extent of the desperation among some, another doctor described how a man who had been shot in the foot was more concerned about the fate of his shopping than his wound.
“He started crying: ‘My food! My food! Someone catch my tomatoes!’” said the doctor, who witnessed the incident.
“It shows you how desperate he was to save his family’s dinner for the day because he couldn’t guarantee he could get food again,” the doctor said.
State-run stores that sold heavily subsidized staples have closed down as government authority has disappeared. Instead, the prices of sugar, rice and flour are taking off in a market where demand outstrips supply.
The price of bread has risen fivefold and cooking fat now costs nearly three times what it used to, residents say.
As the economy grinds to a halt in a city of 4 million people that was Syria’s commercial centre, falling incomes are adding to the hardship.
Shopkeepers have started to ration diapers and baby formula, which can sometimes prove hard to find at all, said one woman. Like many others in Aleppo, she was reluctant to speak to journalists and declined to give her name.
In Bustan al-Qasr, not far from the front line, hundreds of people queue up to buy bread.
“In these areas, men work in the day to make sure their families can eat,” said a medical volunteer in the area. “Now they are unable to work in the day, so their families are going hungry at night.”
Escalating fuel prices are also putting a big strain on households. “I used to fill my tank for 2,000 lira and now I fill up for 8,000 lira, which is expensive even for people like me who have money,” said one 35-year-old woman. With gas stations closed, fuel is being sold in plastic bottles.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos will go to Syria on Tuesday to discuss ways of increasing emergency aid to civilians, but fighting must ebb before there is any real hope of gaining access to hot spots, diplomats said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross delivered vital food and medical supplies to Aleppo on August 9, the first time one of its aid convoys managed to enter Syria’s second city since fighting intensified in July.
U.N. agencies including the World Food Programme (WFP) have relied on the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to distribute its aid supplies, including food rations to 542,000 people in July – falling well short of the WFP target of 850,000.