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No Reconstruction in Aleppo: Restoration at Traders’ Expense, Residents Sidestepped

A Syrian worker cuts stone during the restoration of the 14th-century Suhaibi Mosque in the Old City of Aleppo - April 22, 2018 (AFP)

A Syrian worker cuts stone during the restoration of the 14th-century Suhaibi Mosque in the Old City of Aleppo - April 22, 2018 (AFP)

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Two years and three months have passed since East Aleppo left opposition control, but the reconstruction of old Aleppo is progressing at a sluggish pace. This is despite increasingly frequent official statements about reconstruction and restoration, which have become prevalent in ministries and government institutions.

The years of siege and bombardment over East Aleppo have left only piles of rubble of what once were markets listed as world heritage sites since 1986.

Between the first official announcements of reconstruction projects, and the stalling or falsification of implementation, Enab Baladi has contacted several local sources in the city, to follow up the reconstruction projects of the old city and its markets.

The Deputy Governor of Aleppo, Hamid Keno, announced in early August of 2018 a government program for the reconstruction of the East Aleppo.

In a press conference, he said that the program is comprised of three stages: The first was the preparation of infrastructure, as people cannot live without water or electricity. The second was to provide necessary assistance, and determine the needs of each family. The third was to return residents to their homes, and assure them that their areas are now safe.

No City Restoration Project So Far

One of the architects involved in the restoration of projects in the area, named J.R., said to Enab Baladi that there is still no clear government plan that involves the reconstruction of the city as a whole. The eastern section of the city is still mostly destroyed, as it was when the regime and Russian forces seized it in late 2016.

The architect indicated that so far, neither the government nor concerned institutions have not mandated anyone to survey the destroyed areas, or those which had been restored with individual efforts.

The projects presented by official media as restoration and reconstruction of the old Aleppo are mostly financed by the private sector, or by institutions concerned with the conservation and protection of heritage sites. This includes the restoration of the Umayyad Mosque and the Saqatiya market financed by the Aga Khan Foundation, which has been involved in many projects addressing development, culture and archeology since 1999.

Some shops within the old city market have are also being restored by their owners themselves, and with individual effort.

Areas such as Sabaa Bahrat remain closed off, except for scattered shops whose owners have restored what they could – with modest means.

Restoration at Personal Expense

Individual or personal financing of repairs has been echoed by several sources to Enab Baladi. An owner of a few shops in a souk that the people of Aleppo used to call “Souq Wara al-Jamaa” said that restoration efforts are individual, and are being conducted only by a handful of merchants.

The shop owner, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said, “The fact is that each of these merchants went to the government and got a license to restore their shop, without a decision allowing them to reopen their shops even if its restoration was finished. There is no security, and gangs are rampant. Even people who returned to their homes do not wish to go and shop in the market.”

“This is simply the truth,” he added, “and there are ruined and devastated areas, devoid of any of their inhabitants, and streets are full of bandits and gangs who kidnap and rob people on every street corner. What life or restoration are we even talking about?”

The Jewelers’ Market, an old market branching out from the old city, has many goldsmiths. The Beik family owns shops within the market which have closed their doors since the beginning of the siege, and opened other stores in Al Furqan district in West Aleppo.

A source close to the family indicated that they have no desire to reopen their shops in Old Aleppo as of yet, because there is no movement by merchants or customers there. Moreover, these areas have not been fully restored, and no one has shown interest in investing there.

What About the Return of the Population?

The numbers of displaced persons from East Aleppo to its western countryside reached 1,052 families, with another 5,552 families settling in Aleppo’s northern countryside. This was described by several international organizations as “the largest forced displacement in Syria” and was based on statistics by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Enab Baladi contacted citizens who lived in these areas, and who used to own homes in the Qasila, Hananu and Qastal Harami neighborhoods of Aleppo. They asserted that old Aleppo is still void of its people. “The state did not contribute to the restoration of houses,” said Mrs. Kawther, a resident of the Qasila neighborhood. “We were initially very hopeful, and endured our displacement, but all those promises they gave us were lies. We do not have money left, after all that we have spent during our journey out of our neighborhood and to treat our wounded. Do we not deserve our most basic rights at the very least? They must rebuild what they destroyed with their missiles and shells, and this is the very least they can do.”

Further Evacuation

The Governorate of Aleppo has taken the decision to evacuate more than four thousand families living in some ten thousand building, many of which are dilapidated according to the Governor of Aleppo, Hussein Diab.

The evacuation will be carried out with the provision of alternative housing for these families, pending the rehabilitation of their homes and the demolition of what could not be restored, due to its high risk, according to a statement by the Governor, published in the local Al Watan newspaper on February 4, 2019.

The Aleppo City Council submitted a letter to the Ministry of Local Administration, which includes an assessment of the structural situation and damages, conducted by the General Company for Technical Studies and Consultations.

The survey, which covered 36 neighborhoods in Aleppo, concluded that the number of undamaged buildings is 33,633. The total number of buildings affected by light architectural damage was estimated at 10,176 buildings, while buildings affected by light structural damage totaled 8,031, according to the government newspaper Tishreen.

157 Markets Destroyed, Not One Survived

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conducted a study assessing the scope of damage to the old markets of Aleppo, using satellites images of some areas in January 2017. It assessed the destruction of the 157 old market sites as follows:

31 sites were completely destroyed, and 43 sites in old markets suffered severe damages, while those suffering moderate damage were 82 sites.

The agency noted that no site managed to completely survive damage and destruction.

After the United Nations listed Aleppo markets under its list of threatened heritage sites, in 2013, the agency began an emergency mission to assess the damage caused to the sites listed on the World Heritage List. The mission concluded severe damages to the Great Umayyad Mosque, The Citadel of Aleppo, and several other historic buildings. Severe damages to the old neighborhoods of Aleppo are estimated at 60%, while about 30% of them were completely destroyed.

The agency also estimated the cost of reconstruction of old Aleppo to be US $52 billion, of the total UN estimated reconstruction cost for Syria, which is about US $400 billion.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), in a 2015 report entitled Cost of the Conflict in Syria, said that nearly 1.5 million homes have been completely destroyed throughout the country. It also mentioned the total destruction of civil infrastructure in these areas, including water, electricity and sanitation.

The report estimated that the number of people directly impacted by this destruction to exceeds seven million Syrians, adding that the city of Aleppo topped Syrian cities in terms of its destruction.

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