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The Regime Is Shifting the Burden of Early Recovery to Residents

  • Haid Haid

    Consulting Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House

    زميل مشارك استشاري، برنامج الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا

Despite the regime’s ability to re-establish its control over the majority of Syria’s territories, it is still struggling to restore crucial state functions inside them.

The large scale of physical and financial destruction has significantly impacted the ability of the state to provide services. The lack of financial resources, among other reasons, has shaped the state’s decision to shift the burden of service provision in recaptured areas to inhabitants themselves.

Consequently, residents are left with no choice but to pay out of pocket to restore services. Some of those crowdfunding campaigns are done on an ad-hoc basis while others seem to be more organized. Nonetheless, those initiatives are limited in scale to small projects and in reach to the communities that can pay. The rest of the residents, however, are told not to expect their situation to improve, at least for the foreseeable future.

When the regime established control over former opposition areas, local and international organizations providing services there were forced to shut down. Subsequently, the state has mostly centred its efforts on quick fixes rather than strategic projects to repair infrastructure. For examples, state electricity is only connected, and provided for a few hours, to the localities that still have a functioning grid or can be fixed on the cheap.

But even those short-term solutions, which are limited in number, are being used as a tool to punish the communities that are still perceived as hostile to the regime (such as the ones that were recaptured after lengthy battles) and award those who are considered more tolerable (such as the ones that signed surrender deals quickly).

The situation is worse in the areas that suffered more damage, which have been largely left untouched. Local sources in various localities in Daraa governorate told me that they were informed by state officials that there are no resources to provide essential services. As a result, residents have taken it upon themselves to restore services in their areas due to the absence of other options.

In the majority of cases, residents are individually paying for the restoration of services. For example, a local resident of al-Tal in rural Damascus told me that he had to pay the municipality in advance to get the sewage pipes of his house fixed. The cost of the operation, including the cost of vehicles and materials, were calculated by the municipality staff who only authorized the operation after the payment was paid in full.

In other cases, local communities worked collectively to cover the cost required. That was mostly done when the project was needed by a bigger group and, thus, the expenses were higher.

For example, residents in Inkhil in rural Daraa governorate told me that in order to repair the electricity grid in their area they had to pay for the required materials (electrical power lines and poles) and salaries of maintenance workers. The cost of connecting electricity from the main plant to the neighbourhood was covered collectively by the families involved. However, the cost of linking the houses to the neighbourhood grid was covered by the respective households individually.

Notably, some fundraising initiatives are organized through semi-community-led committees and in coordination with local officials.

For example, a local committee for development affairs was created in al-Tal based on a decree by the governor of rural Damascus in 2019. It consists of 13 members, five of which are members of the city council while the rest are local notables. The main aim of the committee is to help the council overcome its financial limitations by crowdfunding donations for the projects that the latter is unable to finance.

So far, the committee has reportedly raised 125 million Syrian lira, which was used to rehabilitate schools, pay teachers’ salaries and repair water pipes.

In rare occasions, old opposition structures have also been able to provide complementary services. According to local sources in Daraa al-Balad neighborhood inside the city, the local municipality was not able to remove rubble from the area due to lack of vehicles and fuel. In response, the opposition-led negotiation committee, which consists largely of former rebel leaders and local notables, secured the needed resources to clear the streets.

While the regime’s model has been partially successful in using crowdsourced donations to restore services or maintain them, the model is unlikely to be sustainable. On top of such contributions, residents are burdened with buying essential commodities (water, electricity, fuel, food, etc.) and rebuilding their homes. In addition, the increased living cost (due to the depreciation of Syrian lira, deteriorating economy and growing unemployment rate) makes it nearly impossible for people to make ends meet.

For example, a local resident in Inkhil stated that he had to pay 42,000 Syrian lira (approximately $45) from his own pocket to connect his house to the neighborhood grid. By comparison, he receives a daily wage of around 2,000 Syrian lira ($2.25), which is not enough to cover his families basic needs. Thus, he had to ask his brother who lives in Lebanon to help lend him that amount. However, he has no money to fix his sewage system or repair the water pipes.

Fundraising money for services becomes even more complicated, and when the services require paying monthly running costs (such as salaries, fuel or supplies), becomes nearly impossible.