It’s been five long years since the peaceful uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad transitioned into all-out civil war. Since then more than 250,000 people have died, the country has been devastated, and world leaders have been left wringing their hands over how to solve the conflict.
The recent recapture of the ancient city of Palmyra, a site which was ravaged by ISIL and used as a place of public execution, was heralded by the media as a watershed moment for the war in Syria. Palmyra’s majestic monuments are internationally significant as a UNESCO world heritage site. As cynical as it may sound, Palmyra is also particularly photogenic. Cue the before-and-after articles in the news examining the extent of the damage to the Temple of Bel.
there’s no guarantee that all the money that reaches Syria is used for the projects for which they were intended.
Palmyra is, of course, an important national symbol, reflecting a rich Syrian cultural heritage. ISIL knew this much, having used the site to produce horrific propaganda films. The recapture of Palmyra is important. That said, it is critical that Syrian people remain at the forefront of reporting on Syria. I suspect that we are suffering from a case of compassion fatigue here in the UK. While air strikes, the threat of ISIL, and severe damage to local infrastructure make for high-octane reporting – and they are issues which certainly ought to be reported – life must go on everyday for 18 million Syrians.
The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) has spent over a billion pounds on aid for Syria so far. Much of this money is apportioned to UN agencies and charities, but sometimes as much as 43.7 per cent of aid money goes towards UN agency and NGO overheads. It’s also difficult for those donating money to help Syria to know how that money is being used. By trying to act at a distance, there’s no guarantee that all the money that reaches Syria is used for the projects for which they were intended. While allocating resources from afar is ineffective, sending money directly can pose the risk that it will be siphoned off on arrival.
The war impacts almost every aspect of everyday life for Syrians.
One organisation in particular is trying to involve local Syrian councils in the spending of aid money. Tamkeen gives Syrians a say in how funds are allocated on the condition that they agree to the Tamkeen system of ‘good governance’. By setting up a local Tamkeen Committee which champions transparency, participation and accountability in public life, the scheme strikes a balance between ensuring funds are fairly spent and letting local people choose which projects are funded.
The war impacts almost every aspect of everyday life for Syrians. Infrastructure for power, water and roads has been damaged by bombs, as well as local agriculture and community bakeries. Schools and their supplies are depleted. Pharmacies need restocking, ambulance services are missing, combatants need therapy for trauma. Perhaps most crucially, local councils aren’t always held accountable for how money is spent to solve these problems. Tamkeen aims to step in here, working to improve the bureaucracy before attempting targeted projects in infrastructure, education and health.
Naturally, this process requires trust-building between Tamkeen workers and local authorities. In some areas this proves more difficult than others, the system being met with suspicion or resistance. It’s particularly difficult to get women represented within local councils. Sometimes this is resolved by the creation of a women’s subcommittee, which can pursue projects of their own. One such subcommittee in Jasem worked to rehabilitate and provide heating for schools, without which children wouldn’t have been able to attend.
The Syrian people know what they need, granted the resources and structure to address their problems.
Many Tamkeen projects have successfully borne fruit – testament to the effectiveness of getting local people on board with ‘good governance’. In Hazzano, the council worked with Tamkeen on building a local bakery to supply sorely-needed bread in suitable quantities, of good quality and at affordable prices. In the region of Western Rif Aleppo, they were able to provide a self-sufficient, self-funding water supply for 50,000 people after the regime cut them off from the public electricity supply. The Syrian people know what they need, granted the resources and structure to address their problems.
It’s imperative that life goes on for the Syrian people if there is to be any hope of recovery for the country post-war. Those countries undertaking military action in Syria cannot stop short of supporting the civilians who suffer the consequences. There has to be a civil society left when the fighting is over.