Syria’s besieged areas await winter with trepidation

With living conditions already dire, residents of areas under siege across the country face threat of survival as winter sets in.

In al-Houla, in Syria’s northern Homs province, many residents are waiting for the cold winter months with trepidation.

Living in one of the government-besieged areas in the country, Syrians say that there is a lack of diesel and most of the trees have been used for firewood.

Mohammed Burq, a firewood seller, said there are not enough trees left.

“We have been besieged for the last five years,” he told Al Jazeera. “When the firewood ends we will just have our clothes and God’s help.”

According to locals, the blockade is to blame for the high cost of diesel, which has shot up from two cents a kilogram to over 20 cents a kilogram.

Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkey-Syria border, said al-Houla is just one of many besieged areas in Syria where tens of thousands of people are struggling to survive.

“Many Syrians say that the outside world does nothing to ease their suffering,” he said.

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Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian adviser to Syria has called on world powers to help evacuate 500 patients, including 167 children, out of Eastern Ghouta.

The rebel-held area, which lies on the outskirts east of the capital Damascus, has been under government siege since 2013.

“Our not being able to reach Eastern Ghouta for many months in most of areas has now led to an undoubtedly catastrophic situation,” Jan Egeland said in Geneva on Thursday.

Describing the 500 patients as “urgent medical cases”, Egeland said that “many of them will die” if they are not evacuated. Nine people on the UN’s list of civilians in urgent need of evacuation have already died.

“Not a single person has been evacuated in two months,” Egeland said.

“We’re ready, we’re willing to go, we can handle the security. We have all of the tools available, we need a green light,” he said.

Brink of a crisis

Eastern Ghouta is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, with the highest recorded malnutrition rate since the conflict began in 2011. According to a survey carried out by UNICEF, 11.9 percent of children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition.

The 400,000 population of the area have faced chronic medical and food shortages. In the past two months, the UN convoys managed to reach only 68,000 of the population.

Syria’s opposition and government delegations are currently in Geneva for the latest round of UN-sponsored peace talks.

However, there is little hope of a breakthrough.