Wed 21 Aug 2019

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Projects Confined To Paper: Life  Paralyzed In Ghouta

Douma residents in the eastern Ghouta( EPA)

Douma residents in the eastern Ghouta( EPA)

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Since its declaration as a  “safe area,” the Government of the Syrian regime announced its intention to launch dozens of investment projects in eastern Ghouta, and others that fall under its reconstruction process. However, it backed off and gave up on some projects; others it confined to paper while implementing a few in the context of providing the area with the minimum of services required. 

 

Eastern Ghouta of Damascus represents the storage of the agricultural lands, from which the capital city obtains its food; Ghouta also has a role in driving the economic growth due to its crops’ diversity, a large portion of which is used for food industries. In addition to this, the area has an agricultural value, for it is a natural breathing space, which lost some of its advantages after being deprived of a substantial number of its trees. 

In an earlier statement, Abdulrahman Qurnfuleh, the technical advisor of  the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Agriculture, told the Russian news agency Sputnik that the return of cultivation to Ghouta will ensure providing the capital city with sufficient goods in the future and will contribute to a gradual decrease in prices, which in its turn will affect the daily life of Syrian citizens. 

Nonetheless, Ghouta has lost a lot of its power factors, in the shadow of devastated infrastructure and logging during the siege that the Syrian regime imposed on its people for years.  It will take more years to reconstruct Ghouta, as to restore it to a basic operational state.

Assad forces took control of the eastern Ghouta over two months, between February and April 2018, after intensive military campaigns, through which they managed to split Gouta into three enclaves.

Assad forces sought to conclude separate agreements with the factions of these enclaves: Jaysh al-Islam/Army of Islam,  al-Rahman Legion and Ahrar al-Sham. The factions which refused these agreements left for northern Syria.

The agreements included the return of the state institutions to the area and rehabilitating them as well. 

 

Declaring  investments and rolling back of some

The Syrian government declared, on different occasions, investments in various sectors, such as agriculture and tourism, including faith-based tourism. Further, the declarations even covered the government’s intention to invest in the tunnels dug by the Syrian opposition in the area.

The committees, formed by the governorates of  Damascus and Rif Dimashq, started discussing investments meant for the area, as to contact the owners of  industrial and artisanal facilities in order to address the constraints impeding the reactivation of their enterprises, according to a report by al-Watan newspaper, a regime affiliate media outlet, in June 2019. 

The Central Committee, which the newspaper talked about, consists of the Deputy Minister of Industry, Nedal Falouh, as its director, the director of Damascus Chamber of Industry as a member, and the head of the industrial investment department in the Ministry of Industry as a member, too. 

The Central Committee is to supervise the work of the subcommittees, specialized in communicating with the owners of industrial establishments in Damascus and its rural areas. 

Tishreen newspaper, a government outlet, reported statistics collected by the Ministry of Industry about the extent of damage afflicted upon its facilities in Ghouta. The industrial companies’ direct loss, according to the estimates of the Ministry of Industry and the General Establishment for Chemical Industries, reached 81 billion Syrian Pounds. Whereas, the cost of reconstructing these establishments and reactivating them is triple the figure above, according to the current prices, based on the present exchange rates. 

According to the statistics of the Rif Dimashq Directorate of Agriculture, 22 thousand hectares out of 32 thousand hectares of agricultural land are reinvested by farmers. Besides, Ali Sa’adat, Director of Rif Dimashq Directorate of Agriculture, said that mines are yet being removed in the rest of the agricultural lands, in preparation for the return of investments in the area.

As Sa’adat stated to Al-Watan newspaper,  that the countryside of Damascus has lost 7.2 million trees, mostly in Ghouta and it needs about three years to recover. He pointed out that 5 to 6 thousand tree saplings were distributed in eastern Ghouta, contributing to the restoration of the tree cover.

The wheat cultivation plan in Rif Dimashq for the next season is 7444 hectares of irrigated wheat, 2800 hectares of rain-fed wheat, 6000 hectares of rain-fed barley and 1200  hectares of irrigated barley, Sa’adat added.

The relaunching of the industrial economy in the area has not begun so far. 

As monitored by Enab Baladi, in eastern Ghouta, dozens of food, shoe and other factories, have not yet worked despite the declaration of the revival of many projects. In addition to this, civil community sources reported to Enab Baladi that most of the industrial facilities’ owners in the area have transferred their business abroad.

The most prominent project retracted by the government of the Syrian regime was the tunnel investment project, dug by the opposition factions under their reign over the area.

On this note, Suhail Abdul Lattif, the Minister of Public Works and Housing, was quoted by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers on Facebook  early in July 2019, as saying that  the Syrian government has set up a few steps to fill the tunnels, contrary to the recommendations made in April last year which focused on studying the condition of these tunnels, discovering all their places and  finding the best means to invest in them. 

 

Why government of Syrian regime is not implementing the posted projects ?

In an interview with Enab Baladi, the economic analyst Younis al-Karim said that there are several reasons why the government of the regime does not carry out the posted investments.

According to al-Karim, the first point is proposing projects to attract international investments which will present Syria as heading toward a breakthrough. That is leaping over the political problems and attempting to float the regime and legitimize its political presence.

The second point, nonetheless, is cushioning the citizens’ shock through the declaration of launching new projects for investment and preparing the community for an upcoming phase of investments.

The third point, al-Karim indicated,  is the attempt to find funding for these projects and obtaining money, in addition to the political gains. 

Younis al-Karim said that eastern Ghouta is both resolutive and important in the Damascus region, indicating that restoring Ghouta to a productive economic is exorbitant and requires long term investments, the returns of which are not close.

As reported by al-Karim, the government’s budget and the existing financial resources would not allow it to start large-scale projects, adding that the goal of initiating these projects is to provide self-insurance and reduce the risk of using financial leverage through partners. Therefore, the government of the Syrian regime is presenting projects for obtaining financial and political support.

Younis al-Karim gave the debris removal project as an example. There are specialized companies for removing rubble, which can start implementing the debris removal project through obtaining funding by recycling the debris. However, because of the imposed sanctions, these companies cannot enter Syria. Further, the government of the Syrian regime cannot run this type of projects for their excessive costs.

On another level, the citizens, who are working on restoring their life’s cycle back to normal, are complaining of deficiencies and limitations in services. Additionally, the basic necessities of life are nonexistent or imbalanced according to seasons, similar to what happens in sectors of fuel and electricity in winter, not to mention the chaos reigning all regulatory efforts, for the area is lacking a disciplined approach to services that aim to restore them to their previous state. 

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