Aleppo: Mas­sive task of re­build­ing shat­tered city

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ALEPPO: Mid­night means lights out in Syria’s Aleppo: as the clock strikes 12, over­worked power gen­er­a­tors shut off across the city, plung­ing war-rav­aged neigh­bor­hoods and her­itage sites into dark­ness. It will take many months and mil­lions of dol­lars to breathe life back into Aleppo’s dev­as­tated wa­ter, electricity, and trans­porta­tion net­works. Four years of fight­ing have trans­formed it from Syria’s in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial pow­er­house to a di­vided and dys­func­tional city.

“We sold our vac­uum cleaner - what’s the point in hav­ing one if we don’t have electricity?” asked Umm Fayez, a house­wife who lives in the cen­tral dis­trict of Furqan. “It’s been two years since we used our wash­ing ma­chine. We wash ev­ery­thing by hand, but the wa­ter is too cold now and I can’t take it any­more,” the mother-of-two told AFP, sit­ting in the dark amid piles of dirty laun­dry.

Forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad de­clared full con­trol over Syria’s sec­ond city last week, af­ter a land­mark evac­u­a­tion deal ended years of clashes. Rocket fire, air strikes and shelling partly or to­tally de­stroyed more than half Aleppo’s in­fra­struc­ture and build­ings, ac­cord­ing to a “pre­lim­i­nary, op­ti­mistic eval­u­a­tion” by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

The main power sta­tion at Safi­rah to the south­east has been off line for two years be­cause of the fight­ing. Aleppo’s res­i­dents are forced to rely on noisy gen­er­a­tors that sup­ply electricity through a web of thick ca­bles snaking through scarred streets. But they are shut down at mid­night to save diesel sup­plies. Umm Fayez’s hus­band walks home ev­ery night from his sweet­shop us­ing a small torch to guide the way through pitch-black dark­ness. “We have two projects that will re-es­tab­lish electricity to Aleppo,” an electricity min­istry of­fi­cial told AFP, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity. He said new power lines would be laid from the neigh­bor­ing prov­ince of Hama within a year, but that it would cost more than four bil­lion Syr­ian pounds, or about $8 mil­lion.

Res­i­dents are also im­pa­tient for wa­ter short­ages to end, with the main pump­ing sta­tion cur­rently op­er­at­ing at just a third of its ca­pac­ity. “We can only pump wa­ter to 20 per­cent of Aleppo. Be­fore the cri­sis, it was 70 per­cent,” said Issa Korj, chief me­chanic at the Suleiman al-Hal­abi wa­ter plant. He said it would take “many months” to re­pair the fa­cil­ity, but even then, wa­ter pro­vi­sion was likely to re­main a prob­lem for res­i­dents.

Most of the wa­ter pumped to Aleppo comes from the Euphrates Dam in the ad­ja­cent prov­ince of Raqa, which is held by the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group. “They reg­u­larly cut off the wa­ter,” said Fakher Hamdo, who heads Aleppo’s wa­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion. He added that global eco­nomic sanc­tions im­posed on Syria since 2011 make spare parts nearly im­pos­si­ble to im­port.

But be­fore any ma­jor re­build­ing projects can be­gin, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties must clear away bar­ri­cades and sand berms that had di­vided Aleppo be­tween the rebel-con­trolled east and the gov­ern­ment-held west. Bull­doz­ers can al­ready be seen in the bombed-out streets, clear­ing rub­ble and dis­man­tling metal bar­ri­ers. “The mu­nic­i­pal­ity im­me­di­ately mo­bilised to open up the main thor­ough­fares,” said city ad­min­is­tra­tor Nadim Rah­moun. “Open­ing up the roads will al­low us to pump life back into the city with eco­nomic and so­cial ac­tiv­ity and pub­lic ser­vices,” he added.

Aleppo’s Old City - a renowned UNESCO World Her­itage site - is at the heart of this ef­fort. The dis­trict wit­nessed some of the most bru­tal mo­ments of the bat­tle for Aleppo, and restor­ing its cel­e­brated build­ings will pose ma­jor chal­lenges. Mu­nic­i­pal teams are care­fully sort­ing through the rub­ble, set­ting aside orig­i­nal cen­turies-old stonework that will be used in the restoration. In the nearby dis­trict of Aqyul, Ab­dul­jawad Na­jed, 32, had to ne­go­ti­ate heaps of sand to check on his brother’s house. “It took more than an hour and a half,” he said.

Af­ter the bar­ri­cades were cleared, the same jour­ney took Na­jed 10 min­utes. “Things were much eas­ier and I was able to come by car,” he said, load­ing some house­hold ef­fects into his small pick-up. Na­jed’s en­thu­si­asm was shared by fur­ni­ture store owner Zakariya, 42. “Thank God, all the roads are now linked to­gether. Aleppo is one again,” he said. — AFP

ALEPPO: A Syr­ian worker stands in front of a reser­voir on Tues­day at the wa­ter sta­tion in the Suleiman Al-Hal­abi neigh­bor­hood. — AFP

‘Aleppo is one’

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