Syria ceasefire holding amid rising concerns about aid delivery and Damascus water

While the ceasefire in Syria is largely holding, the United Nations envoy for the country cautioned today that the truce may be under threat as clashes in villages in the Wadi Barada valley has damaged water infrastructure and left more than five million people in and around Damascus facing water shortages. Speaking to reporters after the latest meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force on Syria, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said the cessation of hostilities brokered by Russia and Turkey last month holding, with some exceptions, and this, in theory, should be providing an opportunity for stepping up humanitarian access to besieged areas. “Unfortunately that is not the case and therefore there has been a pressure by everyone in this [Task force] to insist on the fact that the procedures to get humanitarian access to the very areas which are besieged, now that there is not a lot of military activities [should be a priority],” he said. The main area of concern is Wadi Barada, the site of key water pumping facilities and where ongoing fighting is affecting five million people in the Syrian capital, Damascus. While “the good news” was that five villages in the Wadi area had reportedly reached an agreement with the Government, two villages – in particular, al-Fijah, which hosts the area’s main water supply – have not. “Therefore there is a [substantial danger] that this may develop into a further military escalation, and the consequence of it, unavoidably, [will be there will be] no water solution for the people in Damascus,” stated Mr. de Mistrua.AUDIO: UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura warns that the recent pause in fighting may give way to renewed hostilities as ongoing water shortages continue to affect millions of people in Damascus. Credit: UN NewsAgainst this background, he said that two meetings are taking place – both in Ankara and now probably in Moscow too – which will be discussing this aspect for two reasons: “because water in Damascus is vital, it affects five million people, and [because] it does have the potential, if it escalates, to impact on the Astana talks and meetings which, as you know, are based on the concept of a well-established and potentially even better established cessation of hostilities.”Planned political talks between the Syrian Government and opposition groups, also brokered by Russia and Turkey, are set to take place later this month.“So there is a sense of urgency linked both to water and to Astana and we are definitely in that direction too,” added Mr. de Mistura. Water engineers are standing by to fix repairs caused by fighting between government-backed and opposition forces, but he said their access had been blocked by armed forces.He also told reports that thus far, the focus of the Astana talks would be to strengthen the cessation of hostilities, “with some type of political broad lines which we feel could be a good opportunity of linking them with and bringing them to Geneva for the meetings that we are planning on the target date which is still the […] 8th of February.”