By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA – As Syria emerges from a decade of war, aid is shifting to smaller projects to help families plant seeds, breed sheep and find ways of making a living while the shattered economy rebuilds, the head of the Red Cross network said on Friday.
Jagan Chapagain, secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said it was time to move beyond the straight humanitarian work of providing food and medicines, though that would continue.
“We want to start transitioning towards … livelihood support,” he said in an interview in Geneva, after returning from a trip to Homs and Douma – former rebel strongholds reclaimed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Hundreds of thousands have died in the conflict that has driven 11 million people – about half the population – from their homes. Assad’s biggest challenge, now that he has regained control of around 70% of the country, is a decimated economy.
Some Western donors have voiced reluctance to fund reconstruction under Assad – who won a fourth term last month in an election the West say was marked by fraud.
In Douma – where Assad cast his ballot – destruction is massive, Chapagain said. “I went to see the hospital, there is hardly anything left except very small pillars of what used to be the gate of the hospital,” he said.
Local residents are building a 40-bed hospital and seeking donations of medical equipment including scanners rather than cash, he said. The Federation was working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), he added.
“In Douma, all the SARC facilities are underground, even today. Because during the siege they created this space, just to be protected … The (food) distribution centre is still under the mosque.”
In Deir Baalbah, a village in Homs, SARC and the Federation have provided seeds, sheep and life-changing equipment to 15 farming families, some 100 people, Chapagain said.
“Just with a submersible water pump and solar panels these 15 families managed to turn their land into productive agricultural land. They had just had a very good harvest of wheat and I saw they were growing potatoes,” he said.
“There are another 50 families who want to join this project,” he said.