Weak government fails to rebuild Aleppo
ALEPPO: In eastern Aleppo, bodies still lie under the rubble, graveyards are full, people are short of electricity and bread, and some children take classes in mosques because their schools have been ruined by war.
Seven months after the army drove rebels from their stronghold in the Syrian city, the state looks paper thin there, with most services provided by residents or with help from international aid agencies or local charities.
Aleppo was Syria’s most populous city and industrial engine before the war and its recapture delivered President Bashar al-Assad his biggest in a string of battlefield victories.
Its recovery would not just be symbolic of Assad’s improving fortunes, but a signal that the Syrian state was capable of revival after years of weakness.
The UN says about 200 000 people have returned to east Aleppo after it emptied during the fighting, mostly from temporary accommodation in areas held by the government.
However, in al-Kalasa district, which Reuters visited in both early February and mid-July with a government official who was present during some interviews with residents, the city’s recovery seemed slow and largely out of state hands.
Electricity came from private generators, water from wells or tanks filled by aid agencies, bread from charities, and basic education and healthcare with help from the UN.
The government removed mountains of rubble from main streets after the fighting.
Aleppo’s assistant governor said the state was ultimately responsible for the services provided by aid agencies.
But in Kalasa, retaken in December amid a furious bombardment with help from Russia and Iran, the strongest signs of the state’s presence were a concrete checkpoint and a poster of Assad pledging: “We will rebuild.”
After six years of war, his state is in tatters. Large parts of the country remain outside its control. Western sanctions have hobbled the economy. Water and power services are in ruins, road networks wrecked and hundreds of thousands of working-age men remain under arms.
Eight-year-old Ghassan Batash would have attended the Yarmouk and Sabbagh school but it is unusable.
Its walls still carry the logo of Jaish al-Islam, a rebel faction that made the school its base. In the library stands a “hell cannon” or home-made mortar.
In the schoolyard, two big craters show where air strikes targeted rebel fighters, wrecking classrooms.
It left Ghassan, who wants to be a soldier when he grows up and likes playing football in the street, with the choice of walking to school elsewhere or going to the mosque.
But at the Abdulatif school in Firdous district and the Karameh school in Bustan al-Qasr, which run summer programmes supported by the UN, the head teachers said class sizes had nearly doubled. Fewer than a quarter of east Aleppo’s 200 schools are working, said Abdulghani al-Qasab, the assistant governor, adding that the government is working with the UN to rehabilitate 100 more.
A street vendor sells tomatoes in the al-Kalasa district of Aleppo.