DOUMA, Syria – Syrian civilians in the besieged rebel-held suburbs of Damascus face deteriorating conditions, forcing many to sustain themselves by whatever means are available.
One such civilian is 75-year-old Abu Hassan, who lives with the 105 members of his family (children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren) in an abandoned and partly-destroyed school in Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta.
The family collects plastic waste, garbage and thick cloth for cooking and baking, and they also sell nylon and other plastic wastes to people for similar uses.
The family moved to the school after being displaced in mid-2016 from Hawsh al-Dawahira, an area now considered to be on the fighting’s front line at the outskirts of the rebel-controlled city of Douma.
An epa photographer based in Douma documented the everyday struggles of the extended family’s young men to gather plastic and nylon waste, its women to cook and hang laundry, and its children to play amid the school’s empty corridors and stairwells.
Starting last month, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad escalated military actions to retake Eastern Ghouta, and dozens of civilians have been killed in airstrikes in recent weeks.
Belal, a young boy from the family, showed the effect of those airstrikes in the form of a ragged scar running from his sternum to below his navel.
Last Monday, the Middle East director for the International Committee for the Red Cross, Robert Mardini, said that the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta “has reached a critical point.”
“As so often in Syria over the last six years, ordinary people are once again trapped in a situation where life slowly becomes impossible and where goods and aid are severely limited,” Mardini added.
The United Nations News Center reported on Dec. 11 that nearly 12 percent of the children in Eastern Ghouta suffered from acute malnutrition, the highest-ever rate in the Syrian conflict.
Eastern Ghouta consists of a network of small cities surrounded by once-fertile farmland that stretches northeast of Damascus, and is currently in the hands of a loose collection of mainly Islamist rebel groups.
It has been besieged by forces loyal to President al-Assad for years.
The area was one of the first regions to come under rebel control at the onset of the war in 2011, and six years later is one of the last territories that remains outside Assad’s authority.