East Aleppo, Syria – We are all praying for rain. When it rains, the planes can’t fly and the bombardment stops for a short while.
We are hoping that it rains long enough for the powers of the world to do something to help the 150,000 civilians stuck in this small neighbourhood in Aleppo escape the carnage.
The situation here is desperate.
People seeking refuge are flooding into the area, cramming into about 10sq km. There are many babies and children here too.
People come with three or four children in tow, fleeing the government forces. They use their pushchairs to carry children, and whatever other belongings they can – some clothes, a few cooking utensils in plastic bags, essentials.
I chose to come to Aleppo several weeks ago. I thought I’d be here with my two-person crew for a few days. I didn’t intend to be here this long. But I knew that coming here at all could be risky.
Reporting from conflict zones is dangerous, but getting the truth to the world is important. Most of the other people here, however, had no choice. They are just caught up in this nightmare against their will.
It is extremely cold. The place where I am staying has no proper walls – I have hung plastic sheets and a blanket in the large holes made by a recent air strike.
The big-hearted Syrian people treat me – a journalist and the only black American in town – generously. They know I can communicate their stories to the world only when they allow me to charge my phone and laptop in one of the few remaining places with a generator and fuel.
The price of the little food that is left is not too high, as people don’t want to take advantage of each other, but there is not much to sell, and everyone is suffering.
"Save Aleppo. Save humanity."
Residents of East Aleppo are giving their final messages to the world. pic.twitter.com/Hzd4VWp0wC
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) December 13, 2016
In order to cook, people take broken bits of furniture, a brick and a few stones, place their pot on top of it and then light a fire.
The menu is limited: bread, dates, and bulgur wheat, referred to here as “poor man’s rice”. Some charities stockpiled the bulgur but there is not nearly enough. Most people have no access to fresh water.
Even the cooking needs to be done in hiding, out of fear of attracting government planes, or those who are hungry and have no food of their own.
The air strikes are relentless. They operate using a “double tap” method that is designed to kill any Good Samaritans who come to the aid of the injured. They strike once then wait a while; then, when people gather to try to remove those stuck under the rubble, they strike again.
At night, the streets are empty. Low-flying aircraft and their cannons hover around the town, targeting anything that moves. If you must go outside, you listen carefully and wait until they pass before running for your life from one block to another, crouching in the shadows.
It is hardest for the injured. All of the hospitals in eastern Aleppo have been heavily bombed and as of two weeks ago, there are no longer any functioning. All that exists now are pop-up clinics in underground locations.
Getting to these clinics is difficult. The courageous White Helmets are no longer functioning; their ambulances cannot run without fuel or fear of being targeted. Some people risk bringing the injured to clinics in cars or pick-up trucks, if they have a few drops of fuel left. I have even seen people use wheelbarrows to transport severely injured loved ones.
If you make it to one of these “clinics”, a new kind of nightmare awaits you there – they are crammed with people, lying on the floor in pools of blood. There is so much blood that the doctors and nurses wear boots as they slip from one patient to the next.
These clinics cannot offer anything beyond emergency medical treatment, suturing wounds and trying to carry out emergency operations. Their only aim is to stop the bleeding; they can do no more than that. And the moment the doctor is able to stop the bleeding, the victim must leave. The clinics are dangerous places. The more human beings there are assembled in one place, the more likely that place is to be targeted.
‘ Tomorrow will be too late for many of us’
The Syrian government opened a corridor for people to turn themselves in. Perhaps 50,000 to 60,000 did hand themselves over. But people are still flooding into our remaining enclave as the government pushes forward. Local civilians prefer to face bombs and harsh conditions rather than disappearance.
The fact that the Syrian army has already killed half a million of their own people is a big deterrent.
But now we hear reports of hundreds of men disappearing in one place, and of men being lined up for summary execution in another. It only adds to the fear of turning yourself over.
It is desperate now. The rain will stop soon and the slaughter will begin again. There must be a humanitarian corridor now. Today. Tomorrow will be too late for many of us.