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