Liberated, Aleppo needs to be rebuilt

Liberated, Aleppo needs to be rebuilt

At least $10 bn would be needed to repair damaged and looted buildings and flats and fix infrastructure.

Aleppo needs peace, time, money and freedom from external interference to recover from six years of war.  Once Syria's most populous city, commercial hub and industrial engine, Aleppo has, since July 2012, suffered conflict, division and devastation.  Thousands of its citizens have died, hundreds of thousands have fled and countless families have lost homes and livelihoods.

Aleppo needs peace to prosper. Although liberated from anti-government militias, it remains threatened by militiamen gathered in the adjacent province of Idlib. Qatar, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, continue to fund and arm jihadis affiliated with al-Qaeda and Islamic State.

Turkey has given citizenship to and armed Syrians from the strategic northern border area with the aim of creating a Turkish zone of influence stretching  deep into the countryside outside Aleppo. US-allied Syrian Kurds are battling Turkey for a wide band of territory along the border where they have proclaimed autonomy.  

Aleppo requires peace to regain normal functionality. From July 2012 until the army re-united the city in December 2016, the city was divided between the government-held, more prosperous west, with 1.5 million people, and the insurgent-controlled poor east, where 2,50,000 were said by the UN to dwell. Two-thirds of that number had left before the insurgents capitulated.

Thousands are returning, cars and buses circulate on both sides, people are repairing and reconstructing homes, shops, and factories. But there is no electricity or water without which households, businesses and manufacturing plants cannot function.  There is also a shortage of men. Many have been killed or fled the city or country. Anti-government fighters have moved to Jihadi-controlled Idlib province.

Battered eastern Aleppo requires time, money, and good will to rebuild. A Syrian architect told DH that at least $10 billion would be needed to repair damaged and looted buildings and flats and fix infrastructure. Resentful central, provincial and municipal authorities have to agree to invest in eastern Aleppo where residents welcomed armed rebels in 2012.

Before the war, factories and workshops were located there. During the conflict, entire plants were dismantled and smuggled to Turkey by armed elements in collusion with Turkish businessmen. Furthermore, merchants from western Aleppo traded with Turks although Ankara provided passage, guns, and money for fighters seeking to oust Syria's rulers.

Many residents of western Aleppo, which has been spared the damage wrought in the east, have lost shops and workshops in the front line Old Bazaar, 60% of which was destroyed during the war. While the government has provided hundreds with temporary stalls along busy streets in the city, many merchants from the Old City remain without premises to make or sell goods and are forced to seek alternative employment or aid from charitable societies.

Before the war, millions of tourists visited Syria annually. Many travelled to the ruins of 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 go to around the country.  Aleppo's tourism sector has been wrecked.

Aleppo is a six-hour journey from Damascus, which is rea­ched by car or bus from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon. Syrianair has one functioning passenger plane and airlines of other countries no longer fly to Damascus, Aleppo or the coastal cities.

Aleppo's damaged eighth century Omayyad mosque, the 5,000 year-old citadel, now a military post, and the devastated souq were the main attractions. Visitors stayed in boutique hotels located in 18th and 19th century Ottoman mansions in the burnt and blasted Old City. 

The only foreign visitors these days are diplomats, UN employees and journalists. Aleppo's high rise, five star hotel remains open due to the rental of entire floors by UN missions like the World Health Organisation.

Prospects dim
Taking all these factors into consideration, Aleppo's prospects appear dim although its remaining inhabitants are steadfast, hard-working and inventive. Eager to return, professionals and commercial folk who have settled elsewhere in Syria and abroad await peace, stability and investment.   

Aleppo could recover if the global and regional powers who have waged proxy wars on Syrian soil reach a comprehensive agreement to cease and desist.  Since the Syrian government does not have the funds to repair and rebuild war damage, the international community will have to provide an estimated $180-200 billion for reconstruction.

Power plants, water facilities, schools, hospitals, and administrative offices have to be reconstructed. While donors are eagerly attend pledging conferences, they routinely fail to honour pledges. For the whole of Syria and the sake of West Asia, they must deliver.

Funding is a political issue: wealthy Western and Arab countries which backed insurgents seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad have threatened to boycott a Marshall Plan for Syria as long as he is in charge even though his removal is likely to create a political vacuum rival jihadi war lords will exploit, launching fresh civil conflicts.