ALEPPO, Syria — As the Syrian war dies down, the threat of Daesh and the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing their country seems to have died with it. However, stabilizing Syria is imperative in preventing a resurgence of terrorist groups. Currently, there are 5.6 million Syrian refugees displaced around the world. Rebuilding Syria would not only help incentivize refugees to return home but prevent future conflicts and even help neighboring countries. Safety and restoration are only possible if Syria has the funds and if its cities are built the right way.
Syria and Surrounding Countries
The U.N. expects around 250 thousand refugees to return to Syria this year. However, much of their homeland has been devastated. Several cities now under Syria’s control, such as Aleppo, Homs and Raqqa, have been transformed and nearly uninhabited. Before the war, there were 2.3 million people living in Aleppo, now there are 1.6 million. The Syrian economy is a wreck. The conflict almost collapsed all economic output, and political instability weakened Syria’s financial system.
The effect has spread to surrounding countries as well, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, putting their economies at risk. Lebanon has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world and the highest concentration of refugees – one million in a country of five million people. Rebuilding Syria can boost Lebanon’s economy.
In an effort to attract foreign investors and act as a portal between Syria and the rest of the world, the Port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon has tripled in size. Its storage capacity was converted from 400 thousand containers to 1.3 million. Syria’s reconstruction would mean business for Lebanon and a stable Syria would be a market for Lebanese goods.
Funding the Reconstruction
The U.N. estimates that total reconstruction will cost $250 billion. The U.S. may still be a game-changer in funding for rebuilding Syria. The U.S. Global Fragility Act states that preventing violence and instability is vital to national security. The Global Fragility Act recently passed in the House of Representatives but is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The bill is intended to help countries recover from conflict and prevent violence. It would designate $200 million in stabilization and prevention funds to six regions or countries under threat of violence or instability. This included areas liberated, at-risk or under the control of the IS or other terrorist organizations. In the meantime, the U.S. financial intelligence agency OFAC has permitted NGOs to support humanitarian and non-commercial development projects in Syria.
The Problem of Housing
Exacerbating the situation is housing scarcity. Fixing an apartment can cost as high as $3,000, which the average Syrian cannot afford. In 2018, the Syrian government created Law No. 10 to compensate Syrians for their homes. But, not all areas are eligible for compensation, and it originally only gave people 30 days to prove ownership of their homes or be evicted. Although the deadline was extended to a year, the law is frowned upon since there is no guarantee that people will not lose their homes.
The U.N. has made efforts to repair water and sanitation facilities but does not contribute to renovating homes. Projects that are participating in private home reconstruction tend to focus on a few spaces within a city and only benefit certain communities. For example, the Armenian Church Relief Committee partnered with a French NGO to help rebuild Christian homes in east Aleppo. Although east Aleppo sustained massive damage and hosts a large Christian population, it still leaves out other demographics. There are 200 thousand people living in east Aleppo and millions more in Aleppo as a whole.
Preserving Syria’s Heritage
The primary goal of rebuilding any war-torn country or city is to bring stability, but oftentimes the idea of reducing conflict through architecture is overlooked. According to Ammar Azzouz, a scholar at the University of Cambridge, Syrian architects and urban planners are beyond waiting for post-war plans and peace talks. Many are hiding artifacts and traveling to other countries to learn how they can save their cities. “They are already working to save their heritage, preserve their identity and protect their history from being erased by extreme violence,” Azzouz writes.
Ideas about how to rebuild Syria have circulated among architects in and outside of Syria. There are mentoring programs, research collaborations and online learning materials about architecture, construction and project management. Azzouz and his colleagues spread information about urban regeneration in their Urban Conflicts Research Centre project, “Conflicts in Cities.” The project put out 10 briefing papers about the politics of heritage and the role of cities in reducing conflict. They found that businesses and governments often spearhead regeneration projects with little interest in protecting history, heritage and marginalized communities.
The briefings make note that reconstruction projects need to be wary of how development can affect existing conflicts within a region. Often, such projects ignore the public spaces that communities share and marginalize residents most affected by conflict. Preventing such problems requires a coalition of international and local agencies to properly channel funds and give people a chance to address the conflict and their concerns.
Syria is one of many destabilized regions. Rebuilding the country would mitigate the risk of terrorist organizations taking hold and further decimating Syrian cities, which would prevent refugees from returning home. Rebuilding cities after the decimation of World War II gave people an opportunity to innovate in the hope of creating a new and better world. Hopefully, this will be the case with rebuilding Syria.
– Emma Uk