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What Aleppo needs to recover

Mar 22,2017 - Last updated at Mar 22,2017

Syria’s once most populous city, and trade and industrial hub, Aleppo, has been deeply wounded by the war. 

After rebels took control of the poor eastern quarters in July 2012, Aleppo suffered conflict, division and devastation. Thousands of its citizens died, hundreds of thousands fled, and millions of families lost homes and livelihoods.

Aleppo needs peace, time, money and freedom from external meddling to recover. So far, Aleppo has only time, time to languish without the peace, money and no interference required.

Aleppo needs peace to rebuild. While liberated from anti-government and radical militias, the city continues to be threatened by these very elements based in the neighbouring taqfiri-dominated province of Idlib.

Furthermore, Ankara-sponsored elements are gathering around Jarablus and Al Bab, north of Aleppo.

Turkey has given citizenship to and armed Syrian Arabs from the sensitive border area with the aim of creating a Turkish zone of control in the northern Aleppo countryside. 

Ankara’s aim is to counter efforts by US-backed Syrian Kurds to establish an autonomous zone along the border stretching westwards, from the Iraqi border in the east to central Ain Al Arab (Kobani).

Aleppo requires stability to repair and recover. From July 2012 until the army expelled the insurgents, in December 2016, the city was divided between the government-held, more prosperous west, hosting 1.5 million people, and the insurgent-controlled poor east, where 250,000 were said by the UN to dwell.

Two-thirds of that number left before armed opposition fighters agreed to leave. Today, thousands of civilians are returning, reopened roads link the sectors, cars and buses roam the entire city.

People are repairing and reconstructing homes, shops and factories. But there is no electricity or mains water. Without these essentials, households, businesses and manufacturing plants cannot function.

Men are in short supply. Many have been killed, fled or moved to Idlib. The streets of east Aleppo are filled with women, dressed in conservative black, shopping. Children with schoolbags strapped to their backs attend the 24 schools opened since early January.

Battered eastern Aleppo requires time, money and good will to rebuild.

A Syrian architect estimates that at least $10 billion will be needed to repair damaged and looted buildings and flats, and fix infrastructure.

However, resentful central, provincial and local officials have to agree to pour money into the quarters where residents welcomed armed rebels five years ago and hosted taqfiris who arrived later. 

As conflict raged, factories and workshops located in east Aleppo were dismantled and their machinery was smuggled to Turkey by armed elements in collusion with Turkish businessmen.

Merchants from western Aleppo traded with Turks although Ankara provided transit, guns and money for fighters seeking to topple the government.

Many residents of western Aleppo, which has been spared the damage wrought in the east, lost shops and workshops in Old City’s souq, 60 per cent destroyed during the war.

While the government provided scores of merchants with temporary stalls along busy streets in the west, many remain without premises to make or sell goods, and are forced to seek alternative employment or aid from charitable societies.

Eight and a half million tourists visited Syria in 2010, the year before war erupted, providing $8.4 billion in revenue. Many travelled to the ancient city of Palmyra, the crusader castle called Krak des Chevaliers and Aleppo. 

This is no longer possible. Tourists cannot get visas or permission from the military to travel around the country. Syrian Air has one functioning passenger plane and foreign airlines no longer fly to Damascus, Aleppo or the coastal cities.

To get to Damascus, travellers must take a car or bus from Beirut. Aleppo is a six-hour car journey from the capital.

Aleppo’s lucrative tourism sector has been wrecked. Hotels and guesthouses that survived the conflict have no custom. Aleppo’s mediaeval souq, a magnet for visitors, was bombed, blasted and burned.

Only a few shops on the fringes have reopened.

The eighth century Umayyad mosque has been damaged. The 5,000 year-old Citadel is now a military post. The museum is closed, its treasures relocated to bunkers in Damascus.

The only foreign visitors these days are diplomats, UN employees and journalists.

Aleppo’s high-rise, five star Chahba Cham Palace hotel remains open. Entire floors are rented by UN missions, like the World Health Organisation.

Aleppo’s prospects appear poor, although its remaining inhabitants are steadfast, hard working and inventive.

Eager to return professionals and merchants who have settled elsewhere in Syria and abroad seek peace, stability and investment.

Aleppo can rebuild and recover if global and regional powers reach a comprehensive agreement to halt their murderous and devastating proxy wars on Syrian soil.

Since the Syrian government does not have sufficient funds to repair and rebuild the massive war damage, international donors have to provide an estimated $180-$200 billion for reconstruction.

Power plants, water facilities, schools, hospitals and administrative offices have to be replaced or reconstructed.

So far, donors have not even fully funded emergency humanitarian aid projects.

UNICEF representative Hanna Singer contends that international donors are not providing the “mega, mega, mega investment needed for infrastructure and reconstruction”.

Funding is a political issue: wealthy Western and Arab countries that backed and are still supporting armed elements seeking to oust President Bashar Assad have threatened to boycott reconstruction as long as he is in office, although his presence may be needed for some time.

They fail to see how his removal could create chaos.

 

As clashes and skirmishes in Idlib have shown, a vacuum could precipitate multiple conflicts between and among rival taqfiri warlords seeking territory, money and power.

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