Residents of the southern Aleppo countryside are fed up with their local council and the large piles of trash accumulating in their towns.

Lack of garbage collection services in the rebel-held region has resulted in a slew of public health issues, notably the spread of the leishmaniasis, a parasitic infection causing ulcers to develop on the skin.

The towns of Qadaa a-Zirbeh and Jizraya in the southern Aleppo countryside have recently recorded 2,500 new cases of the disease, according to what Dr. Sami, a local physician, tells the Syrian Voice.

As regime bombardment continues to rain down on the area, the local council is struggling to get its public works system off the ground and improve the situation. As for the constituents, their patience is running short.

“Either the local council starts looking for solutions or the councilors resign from their position,” Khaleel al-Majid, a resident of the southern Aleppo countryside, tells the Syrian Voice.

Despite such backlash from residents, the local council continues to cite funding shortages and regime air campaigns as the reasons for poor trash collection. As the situation worsens, medical professionals in the region fear the public health situation could spiral out of control if not curbed soon.

‘The spread of the epidemic won’t stop as long as there’s trash’

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is a disease that causes ulcers and legions to develop on the skin. Transmitted through sandflies, the disease is non-fatal; however, the infection can permanently disfigure the infected person.

The rate of leishmaniasis infection in Syria has nearly doubled since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011, according to a May 2016 study published by the Center for Disease Control’s Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The ulcer-inducing infection had been an issue in Aleppo province well before the conflict. In some cases, medical researchers refer to it as the “Aleppo boil” or “Aleppo evil.”

The lack of proper waste management services in the opposition-controlled southern countryside has exacerbated the issue.

The leishmaniasis parasite is transmitted through sandflies, which are attracted to landfills, Dr. Sami explains to the Syrian Voice.

Therefore, the piles of garbage stacking up in towns across the rebel-held region serve as veritable breeding grounds for the disease-carrying sandflies.

“The spread of the epidemic won’t stop as long as there’s trash in the residential neighborhoods,” Dr. Ibrahim al-Mohammed, a physician in the southern Aleppo countryside, tells the Syrian voice.

“We’re terrified because the number of infections keeps growing and we’re dealing with a medicine shortage,” he adds.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is categorized as a “neglected” disease by the World Health Organization.

There are little to no treatments or vaccines available in Syria for the skin infection, according to December 2014 study in the International Journal of Infectious Disease.

In the eyes of many Aleppo countryside residents, the local council is at fault, failing in their responsibility to resolve this public health issue and meet the essential needs of civilians.

“The local council in the region doesn’t care about providing for its residents,” says local resident Khaleel al-Majid. “We don’t even get the most basic services.”

For his part, al-Majid believes the local council has shown its incapacity to govern through this trash saga. A main cause of garbage buildup is the fact that local council is not able to provide compactors for transporting waste, he says.

The local council has responded to critics by citing financial and security issues which are out of its control.

“On top of the lack of material support, we can’t provide garbage trucks to large sections of Aleppo [province] because of shelling in the southern countryside,” Hussein a-Dhabaan, a member of the local council’s services department, tells the Syrian Voice.

“We’re also unable to secure fuel for the garbage trucks we do have,” he adds.

Whether financial impediments or bureaucratic inaction are to blame, the public health situation in the southern Aleppo countryside continues to deteriorate.

In the meantime, residents have resorted to burning their garbage in the absence of trash collection services, causing respiratory complications among local civilians and compounding the critical public health situation.

Translated by Tariq Adely