Syria Civil Defense contributes to early recovery plan; conditions for completing such step

A worker in the explosive ordnance removal teams during the clearing of a farmland north of Aleppo - 4 June 2022 (Syria Civil Defense / Facebook)

A worker in the explosive ordnance removal teams during the clearing of a farmland north of Aleppo - 4 June 2022 (Syria Civil Defense / Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Lujain Mourad

Despite the blurry vision regarding the early recovery phase in Syria, the Syria Civil Defense emerged as the first to pursue recovery projects in the north of Syria. But this endeavor is interspersed with fear that Russia and the Syrian regime would exploit this phase.

Talk of early recovery projects comes after the UN Security Council renewed Resolution N. 2585 on aid delivery through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey for 12 months in two phases, each of six months.

The resolution included a clause welcoming all efforts and initiatives to expand humanitarian activities in Syria, including early recovery projects.

Part of the work of the Civil Defense organization (White Helmets), which started as an emergency response organization, has shifted to projects to improve the living conditions, such as infrastructure repair, demining, and other projects.

In an interview with Enab Baladi in his office in Istanbul, the Director of the organization, Raed al-Saleh, explained the reality of this transformation, considering that the projects that fall under early recovery within the team’s programs are not new but are part of the organization’s daily work.

The inclusion of White Helmets projects within the framework of early recovery depends on the ability of the projects to achieve what helps the population dispense with initial aid, said the Director of the Syrian Program at the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks, Karam Shaar.

Speaking to Enab Baladi, the Syrian professor of economics added that the word “sustainable” was the keyword that assessed the inclusion of projects within the framework of early recovery.

Recovery necessitates a safe environment

There is a lot of talk about early recovery projects in Syria. Between fears that the regime and Russia would exploit these projects and the desire of organizations and society to reach that stage, the future vision of this process remains “blurry” even in the short term.

In al-Saleh’s view, it is still early to talk about real projects that bring about significant change within the early recovery framework.

He added that “recovery” was supposed to begin after the end of the war, while war and systematic destruction of infrastructure by the Syrian regime continued in Syria.

Syrians have a genuine need for a safe environment; hundreds of projects can be carried out to achieve early recovery, but they are always at risk of being bombed by the Syrian regime, al-Saleh said. A safe environment is a fundamental condition for large recovery projects, so they do not lose their sustainability.

Early Recovery (ER): an approach that addresses recovery needs that arise during the humanitarian phase of an emergency, using humanitarian mechanisms that align with development principles. It enables people to use the benefits of humanitarian action to seize development opportunities, build resilience, and establish a sustainable process of recovery from the crisis.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

During an interview with Enab Baladi, the economic researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Mohammad al-Abdallah, considered that the organizations’ projects in the framework of early recovery were linked to local determinants, notably providing the enabling environment for the project to implement early recovery interventions, the most important of which is the availability of a safe environment and an appropriate local government capacity.

For his part, Pr. Karam Shaar said that the ongoing shelling in northwestern Syria hinders early recovery projects but does not mean that this process should be postponed.

Shaar explained that areas held by the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) were somewhat safe from shelling. However, there has not been much development in the case of early recovery projects.

Tasks of Civil Defense’s Early Recovery program

Source: Syria Civil Defense – 2022

  1. Clearance of unexploded ordnance

Number of teams: 6 removal teams, 6 teams to clear contaminated locations

4 volunteers were killed as a result of these operations

The teams are tasked to:

  • Dispose of 3000 pieces of ammunition;
  • Dispose of 21,000 cluster bombs.
  1. Public services:

Providing more than 226,000 service operations in 3 years

  1. Establishment of factories:

1 face mask production factory;

8 factories for the production of powder for fire extinguishers;

2 oxygen production factories;

1 factory for the production of Syria Civil Defense clothing.

  1. Raising awareness about:
  • Hazards of fires
  • Remnants of war
  • Safety and security

Steps that pave the way for the future

The results of a study conducted by the Omran Center for Strategic Studies to assess the “early economic recovery” in northwestern Syria during the second half of 2021 showed the implementation of 766 projects and businesses in Idlib governorate and the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo by different organizations, including Civil Defense in collaboration with local councils.

Although the number of projects has increased, the significant impact of “recovery” on the region has not been demonstrated. But projects have appeared in the form of steps that pave the way for future projects.

Raed al-Saleh considered current Civil Defense projects preparations for the organization’s infrastructure to be better able to embrace large projects to best serve the people in the future.

The economic researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Mohammad al-Abdallah, believes that the organizations’ interventions in the early recovery process are still being shaped after years of relief work.

Al-Abdallah pointed out that many organizations have demonstrated their ability to successfully implement a range of interventions in various economic and infrastructure sectors amid ongoing attempts to enhance their technical and human capacities to contribute successfully to this process.

How has the organization built its capacities?

Since 2019, the White Helmets organization has divided its work into programs, including the early recovery program, to increase the expertise and readiness of its employees, according to al-Saleh, who noted that this has contributed to the further development and management of these projects.

The long period of time that the organization spent carrying out projects in various fields, together with its daily interaction with Syrians, had enabled it to continuously develop all its departments, he added.

According to al-Saleh, the volunteering and joining of many people from different work and educational backgrounds also contributed to the development of the organization’s action plans and increased readiness of its infrastructure.

The organization conducts year-round training courses for all cadres to be better equipped to handle different levels of projects.

Civil Defense efforts are divided into four core projects, rescue and firefighting, relief and healthcare, as well as early recovery and justice.

Al-Saleh said that the organization does not favor one program over the other except in emergency situations when saving lives becomes a priority that drives the Civil Defense to strengthen its efforts in rescue, firefighting, relief, and healthcare programs.

Economic researcher Mohammad al-Abdallah said that the White Helmets had proven their worth over the past years in the area of humanitarian action, in particular in the protection of civilians.

The organization’s interventions were included in the early recovery process and within the framework of interventions related to providing a safe environment for the population.

Obstacles to early recovery

Despite the large number of organizations working on early recovery projects, most people in northwestern Syria still need humanitarian aid to secure their basic needs due to obstacles and difficulties impeding the achievement of their objectives.

One of the most significant obstacles facing the Civil Defense is the lack of direct funding for early recovery projects in northwestern Syria, stated the organization’s Director, Raed al-Saleh.

Al-Saleh added that there are fears that the Syrian regime and its Russian ally would exploit the funding of early recovery for their own interest. The existence of safeguards against exploitation by any entity was a prerequisite for initiating early recovery projects in the region, he reckoned.

Al-Saleh explained that Russia was able to manipulate United Nations terminology to fund the regime’s projects and institutions, prompting the Civil Defense to constantly warn UN organizations of the risk of the regime benefiting from early recovery funding.

Pr. Karam Shaar said that the greatest obstacle to organizations’ success in implementing early recovery projects is the organizational obstacle and the organizations’ failure to demonstrate their efficiency to donor countries and institutions.

In Shaar’s view, many donors are reluctant to provide support for two reasons. First, they think local organizations are not sufficiently responsible and professional.

Secondly, the terrorist-designated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in control of Idlib has reinforced organizations’ fears of providing support for early recovery projects, according to Shaar.

In the absence of donors’ confidence in organizations, with the exception of some, areas most in need of sustainable aid were the least able to access it.

Researcher Mohammad al-Abdallah considered that northwestern Syria was in the process of preparing to launch early recovery interventions, stressing that they would not be at an advanced level as they were essentially linked to the political side of the Syrian file and the state of near-security stability.


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