Counter-point

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents -

Syria’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion varies from place to place, city to city. The gov­ern­ment’s fo­cus is on clear­ing rub­ble and ru­ins and restor­ing se­cu­rity, wa­ter, elec­tric­ity, roads and schools. United Na­tions agen­cies pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and funds for schools, hos­pi­tals, and model projects but the driv­ing force is the pop­u­lace. Syr­i­ans de­pend on them­selves and their fam­i­lies to re­build, re­cover from human and ma­te­rial losses and re­claim lives plagued by war for six and a half years. Syria is in a unique sit­u­a­tion where, of ne­ces­sity, re­con­struc­tion is tak­ing place during war.

Res­i­dents of Homs, Syria’s third city, cel­e­brate the re­turn of elec­tric­ity “24/7,” twenty-four hours seven days a week, and a good sup­ply of wa­ter. Life has come back to near nor­mal in the city cen­tre where shops, the univer­sity, and gov­ern­ment of­fices have been func­tion­ing through­out the war. Rub­ble has been cleared from the streets of dev­as­tated quar­ters where re­build­ing is pos­si­ble: Baba Amr, the Old City and al-waer.

Baba Amr, where rebels were routed by the army in early

2012 after heavy fight­ing, is largely a ghost town although build­ings not on the front lines can be re­cov­ered. Rub­ble has been cleared from the streets but only a few for­mer res­i­dents have re­turned. While a mas­ter plan for its re­build­ing has been drawn up, re­turnees are bear­ing the bur­den of re­build­ing with­out plan or fi­nan­cial aid. An en­ter­pris­ing el­derly man from Aleppo has planted a traf­fic cir­cle with bright canna lil­lies and glad­i­olii. An­other man is ren­o­vat­ing a shop and house nearby.

Wafa Mah­moud Yusif, 39, and her son Walid, 14, have re­turned to their home on a street where three other houses are oc­cu­pied. She has opened a small shop stocked with bis­cuits, sugar, tea, and cig­a­rettes. She earns only $1 (Dhs3.67) a day but has a small pen­sion from the gov­ern­ment as her el­der son was con­scripted by the army and was killed. Her hus­band was beaten to death by rebels for re­fus­ing to join their ranks. “My pri­or­ity is now to sup­port my fam­ily,” Wafa stated. She is to re­claim her home, and life. “I hope it’s like be­fore.”

The Old City, where in­sur­gents were ousted in May 2014, has come alive. Houses and shops are be­ing ren­o­vated, peo­ple are mov­ing back, schools are open. The par­tial re­con­struc­tion of the an­cient souq un­der a pi­lot project fi­nanced by the UN Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme has en­cour­aged shop­keep­ers to re­fur­bish, re­stock and re­open. Samer Zarour, whose fam­ily has had his shop for a cen­tury, stocks night­dresses, socks, shirts, cook­ing oil and sugar. “I sell when peo­ple walk through the souq on their way home from work be­tween six and seven. Now peo­ple just come to walk. When it was dark and de­serted they were scared. Now there is ac­tiv­ity in the street. The souq is a meet­ing place. It has changed the life of this part of the city...peo­ple ring rel­a­tives in Egypt, in Turkey, and urge them to come home. Restor­ing the souq was a very good idea.”

Al-waer, evac­u­ated by in­sur­gents in March of this year, had a pop­u­la­tion of 150,000 be­fore the war; 22,000 stayed; to­day there are about 45,000 res­i­dents. While the quar­ter was be­sieged by the army, gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees and stu­dents were al­lowed to go to

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