Beirut: The United Nations chief has condemned a cut in water supplies in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo that he said has deprived at least 2.5 million people of access to potable water.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that preventing people access to safe water denies them a “fundamental right.” In a statement released by his office late on Friday, Ban noted that denying civilians essential supplies is a breach of international and humanitarian law.

Rebels from the Al Qaida-linked Nusra Front shut down the main water pumping station in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, nearly two weeks ago to punish civilians living on the government-controlled side of the divided metropolis, said Rami Abdul Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Abdul Rahman, whose group collects information from activists inside Syria, said on Saturday that the Nusra Front has tried to restart the water station, but that supplies are erratic and remain largely cut.

“They don’t have specialists to deal with the pumps, and they’ve damaged the station,” Abdul Rahman said. “They’ve tried to resume pumping. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The water comes and goes, but until now it’s not flowing as usual.”

Some residents have resorted to drinking polluted well water distributed in buckets and plastic jerry cans.