Aleppo, Syria, Feb 24, 2017 / 12:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly three months after the Syrian Army liberated the city of Aleppo from ISIS control, the local population is facing harsh living conditions in a city left in ruins after nearly six years of fighting. In an interview with the French aid organization L¬¥Oeuvre D¬¥Orient, Father Ziad Hilal who carries out his pastoral ministry in Aleppo, said that the cost of living in Syria has gotten more expensive.
“Previously, the dollar used to be worth 50 Syrian pounds, today it is equivalent to more than 520 Syrian pounds. Ten times more! The people of Aleppo lack money to live on, few people have a job.” “They need food, fuel, they have to pay tuition for the children, university students, for milk for the children. They have to pay for electricity generators for each family,” Fr. Hilal said.
“Several thousand people are there in the Aleppo region. They are often without shelter, or housed in old factories. They need everything. Others are close to Idleb (southwest of Aleppo) on the border with Turkey, in Damascus, in Lebanon. Others have taken refuge in Europe. There are also some who have remained in Aleppo by going over to the west side,” Fr. Hilal said.
The Jesuit priest explained that after the evacuation of the rebels from the eastern part of the city, “the situation has gotten a little better, but a lot of rebels still remain in the surrounding villages. There are exchanges of gunfire and shelling between Aleppo and the outskirts.” “East Aleppo is almost destroyed. There is a military presence but the people can't return there,” he said.
“Despite that, people are going out on the streets, they can go shopping, the children are calmer. On the other hand, neither electricity nor water have been restored to the city. After the fighting, we had ten days with the water supply cut off which was very trying for everyone. That's why people aren't coming back right now, even if some of them want to. Even more so because it's been a rough winter this year, we've had two snowfalls,” Fr. Hilal said.
“The Church must now come alongside the refugees, the displaced, those marginalized. The people of Aleppo come not just to pray but also to get help.” He stressed that this situation “is not easy work for the priests, the men and women religious, but we're taking this on.”
For example, the six Catholic churches in Aleppo work together to run an initiative called “the milk place.” Each month they distribute milk to about 2600 children in Aleppo. The churches also distribute food baskets, hygiene supplies, and pay for tuition and housing for families.
Fr. Hilal said that the reconstruction of Aleppo is premature “as long as there is no peace in the country.” However, he said that they are studying with a number of organizations the possibility of rebuilding some churches and destroyed houses. “The Apostolic Nuncio in Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari and Mgr. Dal Toso of Cor Unum, came three weeks ago to evaluate the situation.”
“On the other hand, we can't expect electricity to be restored here for at least a year because the network was completely destroyed by the fighting. It would take millions and millions of euros to rebuild it,” he said. “Who's going to pay for that? You have to invest in the city. You have to have hope.”