THE BLOG

Syria - What Next?

22/04/2016 16:02

This week Syria has hit the headlines for both hopeful and frustrating reasons. On Thursday, 65 trucks of aid reached Al Rastan for the first time since 2012, and the day before Red Crescent evacuated more than 500 people from Madaya, Zabadani, Foua and Kefraya. In the same week the peace talks resumed, but are struggling to get back on track. Meanwhile in Syria, the struggle to survive goes on - and the violence, which continues to displace Syrians again and again.

There's a perception amongst some in the outside world that the situation in Syria is better now. It's not. The 'cessation of violence' does not, as some report, equate to a ceasefire. Even in areas that have experienced a respite from the constant thud of mortars, the eerie silence that remains reveals another problem. How do people come back and pick up the pieces?

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Travelling around some parts of the Old City of Homs last week, I saw streets that were decimated and empty. Areas that had been bustling markets and residential streets were utterly devoid of people. I've worked in many other disaster zones, such as Haiti or Gaza, where there may be widespread devastation but you could still hear the sound of people, living, working, rebuilding. Parts of the Old City feel like a ghost town or a film set after everyone has packed up and left. You can't believe that anyone could ever have lived there when you see the scale of the damage.

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If you google Homs before and after, you can just about make out where a roundabout was, or where a clinic or school was. But barely. If you were a student at that school or a former patient at that clinic, and you returned home to see that level of devastation I wonder how your mind could make sense of the destruction. Seeing the lack of life there was very shocking. I couldn't help thinking it will take years to rebuild.

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But even in most decimated places there are determined Syrians working to rebuild their lives. In the Old City I found a former resident, a baker, who had set up a business in the midst of devastation. The Syrian Red Crescent, with support from the Red Cross, had provided a basic kitchen oven, utensils, and the resources that he needed to get his bakery working again. I asked him if he had many customers in the middle of a bombed-out city. He said yes - despite the fact that only around a thousand people had returned to that area, people wanted some return to their normal routine, to buy their daily bread.

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Syrians - where they can, where it is safe enough to do so - are determinedly repairing sewers, water pumping stations, electrical supplies. In Aleppo, solar panels have been installed by the Syrian Red Crescent and ICRC to power some local water supplies. This is not recovery - it too early to use that term and too many places where fighting continues or has increased in intensity. But it shows the resilience of the Syrian people. A true ceasefire and proper support would allow more of this work to continue.

Young people in Syria are working on more high tech innovations to help their communities. One Red Crescent volunteer, a student in software design, recently created an app to monitor aid deliveries, tracking from the point a family registers for help, through to how the aid reaches them and from what source. But ultimately, none of these families want to be dependent on aid in the first place - every Syrian wants to use their own particular skills to rebuild their country.

Hopefully the peace talks will continue to move Syria towards an end to this devastating conflict. But we have to ask - what next? And - wherever it is possible - we must support those who are rebuilding their communities now.

British Red Cross is supporting livelihoods projects in Syria - to donate go to www.redcross.org.uk/syriacrisis

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