Umm Elias – Copy Rights Fanack.com
Much of foreign journalism and analysis about southern Syria focuses on military and security dynamics in the region. These are important topics, but they do not give the full picture. In this essay, I want to talk about the quality of services provided in my area and in southern Syria on a wider level.
The destruction caused to the infrastructure by the war was very great. Since the restoration of full government control over the area a year ago, the situation of services has seen some improvements in the Deraa region, in southwestern Syria,, but many challenges remain. For example, electricity from the Syrian national grid remains cut off in my village of Koaiya, which is one of the most remote villages in the western Deraa countryside as it lies right on the border with Jordan. There have been many promises to fix this problem as soon as possible, but it is not clear when these promises will be fulfilled. Some of the neighbouring localities have electricity, but even those in this situation, which is enviable to villages such as mine, at best dispose of a rationing system based on two hours of electricity, then four hours without. In our village, we use solar panels to generate electricity, but unless you have the money to buy multiple panels, you cannot do much more than charge your phone and keep the lights on in your house.
We also lack phone landlines. Therefore, for contact with friends and family, we often rely on mobile phones and social media applications like Whatsapp. Internet access in my area, since it is near the border, used to work predominantly via Jordanian networks. But now, the use of these networks is officially forbidden. Those who wish to use Jordanian networks, which are seen as more secure as they are not monitored by the Syrian security forces, now rely on relatives and friends in Jordan to buy Internet data packages.
Water from the state network is available, but comes very infrequently: in Koaiya, this means no more than twice a week. Water might come more frequently in neighbouring localities like al-Shajara, because sources of water vary in different places: in al-Shajara, the water comes from a system of pumps and generators. As for our water, it comes from a natural spring in Ain Dhikr, in the north of the Yarmouk Basin, and often this source of water is not sufficient to meet people’s needs. Therefore, many people also buy water from private tankers (saharij), though this is costly considering the high level of unemployment and low salaries in the area.
Municipal services generally remain poor in my region. While municipal offices can offer some services, such as cleaning, in my village we often resort to burning rubbish. The village is ran by a municipal office that is also responsible for the neighbouring village of Bayt Arah. The head of the municipal office is a man called Muslih Fandi al-Muhammad.
Regrettably, in Koiya we have no important infrastructure and reconstruction projects. Municipal offices are lacking funds and may rely on donations from locals and from relatives of locals living abroad in order to fund projects. For instance, in the neighbouring village of al-Shajara, people who are living in another country have sent donations to their relatives at home. This can help finance construction initiatives, public services and even the distribution of aid. Indeed, in al-Shajara, there are frequent distributions of aid and relief. There have even been distributions of animals like chicken and sheep to those in need, for them to raise as livestock. There has been nothing of the sort here in Koaiya.
An important point is that the quality of services and the humanitarian situation can vary by locality. Rather than being the product of differences in the skills of municipal staff and workers in various localities, this situation depends on whether the money exists to finance reconstruction and development. As the government’s capacities amid the country’s crippled economy are limited, things heavily depend on locals and their relatives in exile, who might help by stepping in to fill the financial gap. We can only hope that the situation will improve in the future.
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