The battles that Raqqa Province witnessed between the Islamic State (ISIS) and the internationally supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ravaged the infrastructure throughout the province. According to the United Nations, 80 percent of Raqqa’s buildings and infrastructure suffered damage. Raqqa’s residents are now living this new reality.
In October 2017, Heather Nauret, the spokesperson for the US Statement Department, stated that the United States would take the lead in the reconstruction of Raqqa city after clearing ISIS from it. However, after a full year since the end of the battle, Raqqa’s civilians still suffer from a severe lack of basic services, particularly water, electricity, and health services. There is also a massive amount of rubble left in the city due to haphazard bombing during the battles against ISIS. Additionally, mass graves were left behind by both civilians and ISIS soldiers. Estimates claim the 2,500 corpses primarily belong to civilians. The rubble, lack of services, and mass graves all hinder the return of an estimated 300,000 displaced persons, according to local activists.
Because it is alongside the Euphrates River, Raqqa has access to a number of resources for generating electricity. Yet despite its natural resources, electricity remains a major problem facing the province. The northern side of the Euphrates Dam witnessed violent clashes between the SDF and ISIS during the battles that culminated in September 2017 for control over the dam and the city of Tabqa, the latter which falls 31 miles west of Raqqa.
The International Coalition forces bombed the main control board that is attached to the Dam, causing severe damage to the general electric-provision operation. The Euphrates Dam power station feeds the second most important transmission station in the Ba’th Dam, which is located 22 miles west of Raqqa City and in turn feeds al-Furusiyya Station in Raqqa City. Al-Furusiyya distributes electricity to five transmission stations in Raqqa City that feed the substations in the surrounding neighborhoods and villages. The lack of electricity prevents the restabilization of the area and has a direct effect on providing potable water and the ability of displaced people to return to their homes.
The Euphrates is the largest river in Syria and produces the most electricity for the country. The Euphrates Dam is considered the first power station in Syria. It is 2.8 miles long, 66 feet wide at its top, and 197 feet wide at its base. It has eight floodgates, each equipped with a generator. If all the generators were operational, they could produce 800 megawatts.
A year after ISIS left the city, Raqqa’s residents still suffer from a severe lack of electrical services due to a deficiency in the provision of support to service organizations that are responsible for restoring and rehabilitating the electric pumps and networks. Instead, local residents rely on private electric generators, which run on diesel and provide their services at a cost of 800 Syrian pounds/amp (about $1.50) for about 12 hours of electricity per day for a week. However, a small house needs about 3 amps per week for light and to operate a refrigerator. Given the widespread unemployment and the lack of resources available, many families cannot bear this cost.
To deal with this deterioration, throughout Raqqa province, locals have formed a number of organizations focused on restoring what was destroyed by the bombing and during ISIS’s control of the region. These local organizations get their funding from international humanitarian organizations and the US State Department projects that support restabilization in areas that are freed from ISIS. However, due to the lack of international support, their work is limited to trying to guarantee the most basic of needs with minimal capacity. Although the United States announced that it was freezing 200 million USD that had been designated for restabilization efforts in Syria, this change will not take effect until the next fiscal year. This year’s aid projects will continue at least until the end of October 2018, depending on their funding cycle and ongoing talks about renewed funding with the US State Department.
One of those organizations is Inma’, a civil society organization formed in July 2017 that works in eastern Raqqa countryside where there are about 70,000 civilians currently living. Ahmad al-Hashlum, the management director of Inma’, said to SyriaSource:
“Inma’ works in the field of restoring basic services in the area of al-Karama (about 17 miles east of Raqqa city). The project to restore the electrical grid is considered vitally important, since it contributes to restabilization and strengthening the foundations of peace. It meets the basic needs and rights of civilians, puts the area on the path to sustainable stabilization, and alleviates the consumers’ burden of having to spend on diesel-run generators. It also plays a part in creating a welcoming environment for different vocations and work opportunities for the region’s residents.”
The project “Restoration of al-Karama’s Electrical Grid” started on September 1. It aims to provide fourteen major towns with electricity by installing transformers and electrical grids. The total number of beneficiaries is estimated at 46,450 civilians. The project gets funding directly from the Furat program, a US State Department restabilization program that works in areas liberated from ISIS.
The project works on installing and preparing fourteen power transmission centers in villages up to 25 miles east of Raqqa by repairing the electric grid and installing cables and main circuit breakers. When completed, the project would provide between 400 and 1,000 kilovolt-amps. The project also provides thirty-five jobs to locals.
In hopes of getting the most benefit out of the post-ISIS period, al-Hashlum implored international groups to provide more support to the service projects, given the effect they have on stability in civilians’ lives. The clear improvement in services helps raise the morale of those who have suffered losses during the recent fight between ISIS and the SDF, contributes to the return of civilian life and the return of the displaced, and can even play a role in the process of moving toward sustainable development.
The importance of creating stability in areas liberated from ISIS and improving those areas cannot be downplayed in the war against ISIS. Doing so dries up the sources of terrorism, such as the local residents’ poverty and lack of basic services, and restores social and political stability to an area that has suffered through six years of different reigns and battles—all destructive to its infrastructure. The lessons learned from Libya and Iraq show that achieving stability in the liberated areas is necessary in order to keep the area from falling back into the hands of extremists.
Feras Hanoush is an activist from Raqqa, a former doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières in Syria, and a member of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.