How do trapped Syrians tackle fuel shortages?

Besieged residents of Eastern Ghouta managed to find new ways of extracting crucial and basic resources for energy.


How do trapped Syrians tackle fuel shortages?

Besieged residents of Eastern Ghouta managed to find new ways of extracting crucial and basic resources for energy.

10 June 2017 Saturday 10:00
How do trapped Syrians tackle fuel shortages?

The war in Syria, which has surpassed its sixth year and brought along with it life-threatening sieges to many areas, has pushed people to find innovative ways to adapt to the difficulties facing their daily lives. 

Living under siege means being cut off from essential supplies such as food, water and healthcare, when military forces surround a town or area with the aim of pressuring those inside to surrender. Civilians in besieged areas are denied freedom of movement and are often caught in the crossfire. 

The UN estimates that there are at least 13.5 million people who require humanitarian assistance, including 4.6 million people in need trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas in Syria, where they are exposed to grave protection threats.

At least 643,780 civilians are living in 13 besieged locations, according to the UN.

Residents of Erbin, in Eastern Ghouta, have resorted to inventing new methods, using homemade tools, to compensate for the severe shortage of basic energy resources of which they have been deprived for years.

Eastern Ghouta is one of the three cordons around the Syrian capital, Damascus. The area, which lies in the northern suburbs of the capital, has been partially besieged by the Syrian government since 2013.

It has an estimated population of 400,000, according to a report by Netherlands-based Siege Watch.

In 2013, the Syrian government banned civilians from going into or out of the enclave, allowing only some food deliveries to be received or sold.

Residents have created these new methods to secure and provide electricity, diesel, petrol and gas – rare resources that are expensive even if found. 

A famous proverb in Arabic, familiar to many Syrians, has come to depict the situation in Eastern Ghouta: (Al haaja um al ikhtira') meaning "necessity is the mother of invention" in English. 

Erbin is one of the 22 communities located in Eastern Ghouta. The town's civilians, markets, hospitals and schools have repeatedly come under Russian and Syrian air attacks.

Erbin has been a stronghold for several major rebel groups, including Jaish al-Islam, al-Rahman Corps and al-Qaeda-linked Levant Liberation Committee (Hay'et Tahrir al-Sham) during much of conflict.

In Eastern Ghouta, Syrians devised a technique to extract diesel and gasoline from plastic waste in order to operate generators for lighting, extract water from wells and even operate motorcycles and cars.

Through these methods, they have also managed to learn how to extract gas. A fuel shortage is one of the main obstacles preventing residents from going about their daily lives.

The power cuts and the high prices of fuel have pushed people to extract diesel and gasoline from plastic waste, mostly for the operation of generators.

Workers fill up black barrels with plastic material, and then they firmly close them before putting them in a hand-made stone stove where wood and pieces of cloth burn together.

The technique of extracting diesel and locally made gasoline relies on these plastic filled barrels being exposed to high temperatures. They are left to boil for 12 hours, the resulting steam goes through a tube installed on the barrel and passes through another tube of water to be cooled, and then a yellow liquid flows from a third tube.

Burning plastic materials has negative effects on the health of the workers because they are exposed to large amounts of smoke and gases caused by the combustion process.

In addition, they have to deal with a mix of flammable materials that could explode during certain stages, especially when no protection gear or safety precautions are present.

Experience in adapting to the siege has taught people to produce fuel from diesel and gasoline. The process ends with the collection and compression of gas from the distillation and compression in the barrels and finally, the natural gas is distributed to homes at very lost costs.

People are aware that the fuel extracted from burning plastic has less quality than that extracted from oil because this process causes long-term problems for engines, but it meets the purpose for people living in a dire situation, in addition to the lower cost than fuel extracted from oil.

Most parts of Eastern Ghouta have been destroyed in air raids by the Syrian government and infighting between rebels.

The UN says at least 13.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 4.6 million people in need trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

The UN also says that over half of the population has been forced from their homes, and many people have been displaced multiple times. Children and youth comprise more than half of the displaced, as well as half of those in need of humanitarian assistance.

The UN's latest report on besieged communities in Syria said that at least 624,500 people live in besieged areas in the provinces of Homs, Damascus and its suburbs, Idlib, and Deir Az Zor. Civilians are denied access to adequate food, water and healthcare.

The Netherlands-based Siege Watch group says there is constant and large population displacement between communities within besieged Eastern Ghouta.

The entire enclave of Eastern Ghouta, which is made up of 22 communities, has been besieged since 2013 but has decreased in size as government forces have captured parts of the territory, Siege Watch says.


Updated: 10.06.2017 10:21
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