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Syria: Humanitarian Fund series – A roof over one’s head

07 Aug 2019


Souaad, 72, in her rehabilitated flat in Maasaranieh in Eastern Aleppo city. 

Interviews by Joumana Hout, text and photos by Hedinn Halldorsson


Seventy-two-year-old Souaad lives alone. Her flat is the only occupied apartment in her building, which is in the Maasaranieh district on the eastern outskirts of Aleppo. All the other apartments stand vacant - their former inhabitants either refugees or displaced within Syria’s borders.

I came back a year ago, even though my place had been looted and had no doors or windows,

Souaad says. 
But more than doors and windows were needed to make Souaad’s place inhabitable and this is where the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF) and its implementing partner, the Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD), stepped in. Their goal? To rehabilitate damaged houses, and thereby encourage internally displaced people to return home while also relieving their economic burden. 
In 2011, before the crisis, Aleppo Governorate was the most populous of Syria’s 14 governorates - nearly one in four Syrians lived there. However, by August 2018, the Governorate’s population had shrunk from a pre-crisis number of 4.9 million to 3.6 million. Of those who remain, more than 1 million people continue to be internally displaced and 2.5 million need humanitarian assistance.
Aleppo city did not experience violence until July 2012 - later than other parts of the country. But when the conflict hit the city, it resulted in some of the most extensive destruction and displacement seen during Syria’s eight-year crisis. This was particularly true for the eastern part of the city where Souaad lives – including the neighbourhoods of Saif Aldouleh, Zebdieh, Ansari and Maasaranieh.

Mohamad, far left, his brother Ahmad, and Ahmad’s wife, Jamila, outside Mohamad’s home in Maasaranieh in Eastern Aleppo city.

The SHF-funded SSSD project focuses on residential areas that were badly damaged and which meet a strict rehabilitation criteria: are the neighbourhoods are safe, are the buildings structurally sound and has the ownership or tenure has been validated.
The rehabilitation work itself includes restoring electricity and sanitation services, providing supplies such as wood, glass, paint and building blocks, as well as services such as ceramic tiling and light cement work. Under the current project in eastern Aleppo, some 136 houses will be renovated, benefitting nearly 700 people. So far, the SHF has supported the rehabilitation of more than 2,000 homes in eastern Aleppo alone. 

The young men from the SSSD did everything, the doors, the windows, the taps, the toilet; everything!

Souaad says, sitting in her living room.

I could never have afforded that, I only have my late husband’s monthly pension of 10,000 Syrian pounds (SYP) in addition to the 5,000 SYP my children give me ($29 in total).

A boy rides his bike outside his home in Maasaranieh in Eastern Aleppo city

Abu Abdo, his wife and their two children were also forced to leave their home in Maasaranieh in 2012 when violence intensified. For half a decade the family lived in a rented office space in western Aleppo city and when they couldn’t afford the rent anymore, they moved in with Abu Abdo’s parents. Luckily Abu’s family met the UN ‘s criteria for a home rehabilitation. Seven years later, the family has moved back into their old home. 

I signed up after hearing about the rehabilitation project from a neighbour. Our house had been looted, even the electricity cables had been pulled out of the walls. Half a year later, the SSSD called to tell me they were going to start working. I couldn’t believe it, I had to see it with my own eyes. And they finished the work in two weeks, can you imagine!,

Abu Abdo says, admiring the workmanship of the SSSD.

No words can express how grateful I am.

The scale of destruction in Aleppo is such that the rehabilitation of services, infrastructure and housing will take time and resources. Tens of thousands of people still do not have an adequate water and electricity. Schools, health systems and indeed entire neighbourhoods need to be rebuilt for those to be able to return home. This year, Aleppo is expected to see the numbers of returnees increase – all of whom will need a roof over their heads. 

Interviews by Joumana Hout, text and photos by Hedinn Halldorsson.

More stories on the Syria Humanitarian Fund