Rebuilding Aleppo will take billions of dollars
Aleppo - Fighting has ended in Aleppo and talk is beginning to turn to the question of how to rebuild Syria’s largest city, where entire blocks have been smashed into rubble. The task will cost tens of billions of dollars.
Hopes for rebuilding also collide with daunting realities.
Without a comprehensive peace deal to end Syria’s civil war, Western countries are unlikely to give funds to the government of President Bashar Assad, which remains under US, European and Arab sanctions that bar aid. Even Russia and Iran, which are bankrolling Assad, show little enthusiasm for shouldering rebuilding costs.
Much depends on the shape of any eventual political settlement ending the conflict. Rebuilding without a deal may only entrench demographic changes caused by the war, which have run along sectarian lines.
The fear is that Assad’s government will rebuild opposition areas, such as eastern Aleppo, for its supporters and do little to attract back millions of refugees, most from parts of the country that joined the rebellion.
Still, the European Union, where nearly 1 million Syrians are seeking asylum, says planning must start now. The European Union wants to host a conference on Syria with a focus on reconstruction. UN officials are scrambling to form a vision and find ways to tackle financing.
“I remember people were telling us, ‘Are you mad? You start planning for rebuilding now?’ And my reaction was, ‘It is already too late,’” said Abdullah al-Dardari, deputy executive secretary for the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia.
“One day soon, hopefully, when there is a peace agreement of some sort and we need to deliver to the people of Syria on basic services and housing and schooling and all this, you will see how much time we really needed for planning.”
The EU move may in part be aimed at gaining a voice in Syria at a time when Moscow dominates the political process. Russia’s warplanes helped Assad’s forces recapture eastern Aleppo, the government’s greatest victory, and now Russia along with opposition-backer Turkey is pushing to jump-start negotiations.
Dardari estimated war damages across Syria at $350 billion. Aleppo’s share is about 15% — more than $52 billion — he said, though others estimate it is nearly double that.
“The economic damage is beyond calculation at the moment,” said Dardari. “There is no number on Earth that can be put on the loss (of) the historical, archaeological and cultural and also the business aspect of it.”
Aleppo was divided between a government-held west and opposition-held east from 2012. The east bore the brunt of the destruction until the rebel enclave collapsed in December. Eastern Aleppo, home to nearly 1.5 million people before the war, lies largely empty. While residents are allowed to return, many will not without a reconciliation deal, fearing retaliation or military conscription.
Still, dozens of residents have filtered in to inspect their properties, climbing over debris to reach hollowed-out, punctured buildings with unexploded ordnance littered around. Entire apartment blocks are rubble. Vehicles cannot move through most streets because of debris and craters.
The historic old quarters, which were largely held by the opposition, are a wrecked shadow of their glorious past. UNESCO estimated that 60% of the old city has been severely damaged and 30% destroyed. Among the casualties are the heavily damaged centuries-old Umayyad mosque and historic bazaar.
“My heart burns every time I come to the market and see the destruction. I cry every day but there is nothing I can do,” said shoe shop owner Abdul-Qadir Homsi.
Mohammed Saddour, who sold carts, found his shop had been used as a rebel operations room. He spoke as workers poured sand into a tunnel underneath his shop. He estimated he would need $1,200 to get the shop running plus $800 for a generator — an amount he cannot afford.
“The economic cycle in Aleppo will not start unless the big and small business owners begin working. If they don’t start, it will not resume,” he said.
Officials in Russia — mired in a two-year-old recession — have not commented on rebuilding. Moscow may instead encourage companies and other entities to lend support.
With no overall peace deal, Turkey, a major ally of the opposition, may take a role in reconstruction in areas under its sphere.
Without a large-scale campaign, rebuilding will likely come through financing smaller, local efforts. (The Associated Press)