The industrial sector has almost entirely vanished from Syria in recent years, whether due to fighting and bombardment or an end to production and the deteriorating economic conditions.
As an example of the state which the industrial sector has reached, one can look to the situation of the three industrial zones in northern Aleppo which have been almost completely destroyed. The Shaykh Najjar industrial city is located at the northeastern entrance to the city of Aleppo. At a size of 4,412 hectares, the city was home to around 6,100 facilities with industrial activities including engineering, textiles, food, chemicals, and software. Rebel forces seized control of the city in the summer of 2012, only for the regime to recapture it after two years. Hundreds of industrial facilities were looted, while owners of a large number of factories moved their work to Turkey, the Iraqi Kurdistan region, Egypt, or Morocco during the time of opposition control. Then heavy regime bombardment of its facilities led to the destruction of what remained before rebel forces withdrew.
In northern Aleppo there are also two other industrial gatherings, the industrial zones in Al-Shaqeef and in Al-Lairamoun, while another small industrial zone lies in the center of Aleppo city in the Kalasa district. The Al-Shaqeef and al-Lairamoun industrial areas stopped work entirely because of looting and bombardment, as did the factories in the smaller Kalasa industrial zone.
Even so, industrial initiatives have not disappeared from the scene entirely. The Al Gherbal team met with Ali, one of the heads of these initiatives, near the city of Azaz in the northern Aleppo countryside, where he has a small factory on a plot of land. He says he began renting the land about a year ago to start a project he describes as “successful and profitable,” and says “provides jobs to more than 10 people, which means it provides for 10 families.”
In his hands, Ali turns over nylon bags produced in his shop and is proud of his accomplishment, especially after losing his livelihood three years ago after he fled his village near the city of Al-Bab in the Aleppo countryside at the start of 2014 when the Islamic State group seized it. He said he was working as a farmer for irrigated crops, like potatoes, sugar beets, and other types of vegetables before his escape.
He told Al Gherbal that “the bags which are produced at my factory cover a large portion of the needs of the local market in light of the roads being cut off and various military forces dividing control over Syria’s regions.” He continued, “For raw goods, our project depends on plastic pellets which we import from Turkey.”
Ali did not hide the fact that there are a great number of difficulties which his work faces, such as the roads being cut and as a result the difficulty of transport, as well as the lack of fuel needed for power generators, in addition to the difficulties connected to the import of raw materials in that they cannot be brought in through the Bab al-Salama crossing, which imposes large customs fees, forcing the price of products to go up.
Hopes of a revival of the commercial sector despite difficult economic conditions
The expected recovery in the northern Aleppo countryside, with the return of residents to the area, is not limited to the agricultural sector, as many of those who previously left have begun to return. This includes many with capital and traders who were waiting for an opportunity to resume their commercial activities, the revival of which will increase the opportunities for social stability by providing work opportunities to a class of unemployed young people or those who want to stop fighting and return to a normal life in which there are fewer risks to their lives.
The domestic commercial sector has endured a long period of recession as a result of monopolists controlling the market due to a lack of any monitoring, which should have been imposed by local councils and opposition institutions which typically oversee the areas outside regime control. However these institutions were unable to enforce their task while the northern Aleppo countryside endured a state of chaos and continuous turnover of control between the opposition, ISIS, Kurdish militias, and regime forces.
Needs have increased in these areas with the lack of basic goods manufactured locally and the increase of prices in the local market, which have risen steadily because of the decrease of the exchange rate of the Syrian pound in parallel with the lack of income sources in the northern Aleppo countryside.
In the city of Azaz the situation worsened with the increase of the value of the dollar, which traders used to buy their goods to make the prices of goods equivalent to the Syrian pound and to sell for a profit. If the price of the dollar goes up, the trader would raise the price of goods immediately, which contributes to pressure on residents given the state of unemployment and the lack of income sources.
Abdel-Rahman, 40, a resident from Azaz, said that, “with the price of a kilo of tomatoes hitting 400 pounds ($1.80), and a kilo of eggplants up to 350 pounds, I can’t, as the head of the family, provide for the whole household’s needs. I’m only able to secure the basics, like bread, flour, bulgur and the oil we buy even though the prices have gone up.” He adds that: “The price of the dollar is the reason for the inflation. The trader uses the low price of the Syrian currency as an excuse, while the normal citizen who doesn’t have any income now needs at least 4,000 pounds for a day’s worth of food. Not to mention medicine for children, clothes and water.” He continued, saying: “The huge rise in the prices, and especially vegetables, and life’s basics, is related to the control of traders and the lack of conscience in the market because no one is monitoring them.”
Here it falls upon the opposition institutions concerned with administering the areas under their control to understand the need to develop a new way forward founded on broad-based development work. This can achieve and ensure a large amount of entrepreneurship and reactivate production to provide opportunities for a healthy social life and help create conditions which enable residents to achieve a minimum of self-sufficiency. Carrying this out is an important matter — not just to build a more effective and efficient response, but also to counter the tendency to rely on aid which has become rampant in Syrian society.
It is up to opposition institutions to strengthen local abilities and encourage similar initiatives and to attract work opportunities to the area, while agencies should be formed to manage these initiatives, run by people from local communities. These agencies should work to strengthen the capacity to front the crises and to support and enable similar institutions in order to have the capacity to provide their services continuously and with transparency and efficiency, in accordance with the needs of affected men, women and children from the local community in general.
This article was edited and translated by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.