Aid and water supply concerns, "threaten fragile Syria ceasefire"

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On 4 January 2017, UNICEF started trucking water to 50 schools in the capital Damascus and surrounding areas. Fighting in and around Wadi Barada, on the outskirts of Damascus, has resulted in damages to the water network. Photo: UNICEF/Muhannad Al- Asadi

Concerns are growing that the recent pause in fighting in Syria may give way to renewed hostilities as ongoing water shortages continue to affect millions of people in Damascus.

UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura issued the warning in Geneva where preparations are continuing for new intra-Syrian peace talks in February.

He said that resolving water and aid access were vital, since they could derail efforts to bring the warring sides to the negotiating table in Kazakhstan, later this month.

Daniel Johnson has more.

Five million people in the Syrian capital Damascus have been without running water for almost three weeks.

The problem is linked to ongoing clashes in an area called Wadi Barada, outside the city.

This is now threatening the fragile cessation of hostilities agreement which came into place just ahead of the new year.

It's also threatening the joint Russia-Turkey plans to hold talks between the warring parties in the Kazakh capital Astana, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said:

"Two meetings are taking place now in Ankara, and probably Moscow too, which will be discussing this aspect too, for two reasons, a, because water in Damascus is vital, it affects five million people, and b, because it does have potential if it escalates an impact on the Astana talks and meetings which as you know based on the concept of a well-established and potentially even better established cessation of hostilities."

The UN Special Envoy said that some villages in Wadi Barada have reached an agreement with the government to allow access.

But two had not, including one with direct access to a main water source.

Water engineers are standing by to fix repairs caused by fighting between government-backed and opposition forces, but Mr de Mistura said that their access had been blocked by armed forces.

The issue of aid access continues to be a feature of the more than five-year conflict that's left an estimated 300,000 people dead.

And because the cessation of hostilities deal is "largely holding" with some exceptions, the UN negotiator said that humanitarian aid deliveries should be the priority.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 1’37″

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