The bombing of housing units and infrastructure has left millions of tonnes of debris, complicating post-war rebuilding plans.

A Syrian man walks amid destruction in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 10, 2013. (AFP)
A Syrian man walks amid destruction in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on April 10, 2013. (AFP) (AFP)

Istanbul -  When 27-year-old Muhammad Alkhalaf remembers his home city of Aleppo, he sees the historic market, with sunlight gaping through its old roof, the jubilant crowd occupying its festooned shops and the lively food stalls.

"It looked like a story from Arabian Nights," the Syrian mechanical engineer, now a refugee in Turkey, told TRT World.

Three years ago, Alkhalf escaped Syria as the conflict between rebels and regime forces reduced his home city to a pile of rubble. The latter then recaptured what was once the country's most populous city.

Like Alkhalf, 55-year-old Abu Mahmud misses visiting the city’s castle – a large medieval fortified palace – where he would find solace.

"I really miss it," he said. "[Bashar al] Assad bombed our area like anything... I can't forgive him for what he did to my city."

A picture taken on March 9, 2017 in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which was recaptured by the regime forces in December 2016, shows a view from inside the old bazaar in the old city. The World Bank says that it would take about six years of continuous work and 26 million 'truck-kilometres' to clear the debris from Aleppo.
A picture taken on March 9, 2017 in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which was recaptured by the regime forces in December 2016, shows a view from inside the old bazaar in the old city. The World Bank says that it would take about six years of continuous work and 26 million 'truck-kilometres' to clear the debris from Aleppo. (AFP)

Difficult to rebuild

When the World Bank recently studied the impact of war on Syrian cities, it revealed that civil war has not only created an army of refugees and myriad of graveyards for its more than 400,000 dead. But the relentless bombardment of homes and the city's infrastructure has caused a huge problem of debris.

According to the study, the destruction of Syrian cities in the six-year-old war has left over 20 million tonnes of concrete and mangled steel accumulated in Aleppo and Homs.  

The study Toll of War led by the Bank’s senior economist Harun Onder, assesses the economic and social consequences of the Syrian conflict as of early 2017.

“World Bank has (only) focused on debris in two cities (Aleppo and Homs) in a pilot study. The other cities are excluded because of the time limit and cost of such calculations,” Onder told TRT World.

According to the study, about 14.9 million tonnes (in Aleppo) and 5.3 million tonnes (in Homs) of debris have accumulated in these cities that will require massive clearance efforts entailing huge transportation costs.

To put these figures in perspective, the report said that it would take about six years of continuous work and 26 million "truck-kilometres" to clear the debris from Aleppo.

In comparison, in Homs, it would take about 2.5 years and 2.3 million "truck-kilometres," it said. 

"This refers to the costs associated with transporting the debris, similar to a "man-hours". For example, the material can be transported to a destination by 50 trucks, each driving a total of say 10km, or 100 trucks each driving 5km in total. What is being measured is how many total kilometres are driven by trucks," Onder said.

Asked if the World Bank would suggest the reuse of debris in  post-war rebuilding efforts, he said, "the report has limited its focus to the impact of the conflict, and has not discussed post-conflict recovery efforts."

Damaged buildings are seen in the government-held Al Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo on December 13, 2016. Of about 1.1 million housing units, the war has destroyed .3 million units, completely or partially, in the ten major Syrian cities.
Damaged buildings are seen in the government-held Al Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo on December 13, 2016. Of about 1.1 million housing units, the war has destroyed .3 million units, completely or partially, in the ten major Syrian cities. (Reuters)

Destruction of homes

Now in its seventh year, Syria's war has become the worst humanitarian disaster of over half a century.

Some argue that the scale of the crisis even surpasses World War II.

With more than 400,000 killed and half of the population displaced, the war has taken a huge toll on the country's infrastructure, economy and housing facilities.

Of about 1.1 million housing units, the war has destroyed 0.3 million units (27 percent) completely or partially in 10 major Syrian cities, according to the World Bank data.  Aleppo bears the largest share of the destruction at 64 percent of impacted urban housing, followed by Homs at 16 percent.

Earlier in July, the World Bank reported that Syria's war has caused the country a loss in Gross Domestic Product of $226 billion, or four times the GDP of 2010.

Recovery of economy

While the conflict doesn't seem to have an end in sight in the near future, the study said, "The longer it continues, the more difficult the post-conflict recovery will be" but it has measured how much the Syrian economy would recover at different time intervals if the war ends.

"Currently we suggest 41 percent recovery (of the gap with its pre-conflict level) in four years if the conflict ends this year (2017), and 28 percent recovery in the first four years if it ends in its 10th year from now (2027)," Onder said of the report.

The economist, however, said that there are many factors that could affect the exact number of years it would take to reach the pre-conflict GDP level, such as future fertility rates and refugee return rates, "which we do not know for sure, especially as we get farther in the future."

For the Syrian refugees Alkhalaf and Mahmud, the thought of their country's reconstruction evokes hope as well as doubt.

"For reconstruction … well [the] first thing we must rebuild is a human inside us. The war in Syria killed a lot of things inside us. We have much to rebuild and I do not think it will be easy," said Alkhalaf.

"At the cusp of civil war," Mahmud said, "my cloth factory was bombed by Assad forces. They even stole cables from the factory walls. Now even if the war ends, there won't be any real reconstruction. With Assad in power, rebuilding lives in Aleppo doesn't mean anything to me."

Source: TRT World