In Syria, the besieged town of Douma, 10km northeast of Damascus, has been under intense regime and Russian shelling for the past few weeks.
One resident, Osama Nasser, describes what it is like to live there:
It usually begins in the morning, at around 8am, and lasts all day. But recently there has been a new development: now we sometimes have air strikes at night as well.
We wake up when we hear the first bomb and say Alhamdulillah (thanks to God): we are still alive.
Sometimes we go down to the basement, which we have rented so that we have somewhere to hide. But at times we get so bored with hiding there that we decide it is better to simply stay in our house and to try and ignore the shelling.
I haven’t told my wife or my daughter this, but I’m bored with it. I’m fed up with these ‘safety’ measures – many people have been killed even while in basements.
After breakfast, I go to my office – it’s located in the building I live in, which helps me to minimise how much time I have to spend out on the streets.
The entire world is watching Syrian children and women being killed by barrel bombs and air strikes, and yet nobody is taking any action to stop this massacre.
I work for the Syrian Nonviolence Movement, a civil society NGO founded in 2011, during the early days of the uprising.
In terms of food, my family are among the lucky ones, as both my wife and I work. For breakfast we have labneh (strained yoghurt) or cheese and sometimes jam. And then later we have a second meal – today we had rice and tomatoes. Sometimes we have meat.
We are very grateful for what we have now. Most of the time, we have milk for our daughter. But we spent many months without even coffee or tea.
I moved to Douma from Damascus in mid-2013, as I was wanted by the regime for my peaceful activism work. I had already been detained twice during the uprising – once in May 2011, and missed my daughter’s birth on June 10. She was 17 days old when I was released. Her name is Emar. She is four years old now.
When I arrived, the city was newly liberated and there was an atmosphere of hope. Alternative schools, which do not run the state curriculum, and new organisations such as the civil defence forces and the new Douma city council were set up. There were also new cultural centres, newspapers, magazines and FM radio stations. It felt like the regime would soon fall.
Back then, the road to Damascus was still open, so people who were not wanted by the regime could go in and out using regular transportation. But there was already shelling and a shortage of electricity.
By October of that year, the siege had tightened. It was really hard. There was no food in the markets, no fuel, almost nothing at all, and no smugglers bringing anything in. There was no bread, and no flour to make it, no rice or potatoes.
Our suffering was doubled then because we had a daughter who suffered too. Can you imagine a young child who has not had a biscuit or a piece of chocolate in weeks?
There were only a few vegetables still available, so I tried to grow my own. There was meat at first, and it was cheaper than rice and wheat, because the farmers had no food with which to feed their cattle, so they had to kill them. They even killed the camels.
Today, there is some meat produced from inside Douma, but it is very expensive, as are dairy products. Chickens and eggs are sometimes smuggled in.
A bag of bread costs 600 Syrian pounds (more than $3) and the average family needs at least one a day, as the bag weighs less than half of its regular weight. Before the war, a “regular” bag was 1kg.
But our food situation is slightly better today, relatively speaking, of course.
During the worst periods, food in Douma cost around 20 times the price in Damascus – today, it is about seven times the price. Perhaps that’s because there are more smuggling routes now.
There is no electricity, so we have solar panels on our roof. We used to have a solar water heating system on the roof, but that was destroyed by mortars. And it will soon be winter, which means burning wood to keep warm.
We have started a campaign with local schools to try to encourage people to plant trees, as we are running out of wood.
The situation as a whole has become a lot worse recently, and it keeps deteriorating. We feel that nobody cares about us being slaughtered every day. There isn’t a two square metre area in the whole of Douma that has not yet been hit.
The building I live in has been hit by shells many times but, thank God, it has only ever caused material damage. Our plastic windows get damaged by shrapnel, or from the pressure caused by explosions, and we’ve had to replace them twice in the past 10 days.
No one in Ghouta, the area to the east of Damascus where Douma is located, has glass windows any more – they have all been broken.
On November 2, there was an air strike on one of the field hospitals in Douma. It was the only emergency hospital left in the town. Several medical staff were killed and there were dozens of injuries.
Now emergency cases must be taken somewhere else in the Ghouta.
When I see a building which has been destroyed, I always think the same thing – why not me? I walk those streets. Maybe they want to push us even further. They have already pushed people in Douma to the highest limits, but they can always kill more.
They want to make it harder for us to survive, by giving us more hardships to endure, by killing more of our children. I was here when the regime used chemical weapons to attack the eastern Ghouta area in August 2013, and we really thought that something would happen after that to stop things.
If a chemical attack against children isn’t a “red line”, then what is? That was the international community giving Bashar al-Assad a licence to kill. They basically said – you can kill more, and you can even bring in other armies to kill people if you are short of weapons and soldiers.
The entire world is watching Syrian children and women being killed by barrel bombs and air strikes, and yet nobody is taking any action to stop this massacre. The only way I find to stay positive is by carrying on. After losing loved ones, houses, jobs, savings … people have no choice but to go on.
I stick to my ideas of nonviolence. We see now how the situation is getting worse and worse with more violence. Even if it does not look like peace is coming any time soon, that doesn’t mean we should support more weapons and more violence now.
I think the international community knows what could stop the killing in Syria, but they don’t seem to care about Syrian lives.