Before the war, Idlib city, a provincial capital in northwestern Syria, was home to an estimated 180,000 people.
Today, as the urban center of the only province controlled by rebel forces, the city hosts half a million people, many of them displaced from elsewhere in Syria.
In recent months, the city’s population has swelled alongside other parts of Idlib province as bus after bus of people—rebels, their families and civilians—arrive from cities, towns, villages and districts across Syria that signed reconciliation and evacuation deals with the Assad regime.
The Russian-sponsored de-escalation agreement that went into effect on May 6 put a stop to near-daily airstrikes over the provincial capital. But as residents resume their lives, the lack of resources is putting additional pressure on the city’s municipal services, provided by the Idlib City Council.
An Idlib market on May 21. Photo courtesy of Edlib Media Center.
Idlib’s water and electricity networks are off the government grid and powered by diesel-run generators, Ismail Anadani, the head of the Idlib City Council, tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier. Water rationing means that each of the city’s 10 sectors gets water for four hours every 10 days.
“The networks have reached their maximum capacity.”
Q: Waves of evacuees have come to Idlib city in recent months from various areas across Syria that surrendered to the regime. What challenges has this influx brought?
We are having trouble securing water and electricity [for everyone]. Our capacities are limited, demand is increasing and the networks have reached their maximum capacity.
The arrival of displaced people in growing numbers, a sense of partial safety [amidst the current de-escalation zones agreement] and overcrowding have increased the demand for water and electricity.
With a growing labor force and widespread unemployment, we have also seen an increased crime rate.
[Overall,] the main challenge we have faced in our work is the lack of security due to airstrikes and an unstable population as a result of that. Now that the de-escalation agreement has gone into effect, our biggest challenge is securing funding.
We are trying to secure additional generators by submitting proposals to organizations that support us.
Q: Before, when there were frequent airstrikes on Idlib city, how many hours of electricity did people have? What has changed now that the de-escalation agreement is in effect?
The problem isn’t the number of hours, but rather that the generators are at capacity and the city is teeming with residents. It’s not a problem we can easily solve. We need to increase the capacity of the generators and the diameter of the cables, but that requires funds that we do not have.
Each street is equipped with a generator, and that is enough for the small number of people present [and using electricity] during the bombing.
Now, all apartments are inhabited, and those new residents do not have a source of electricity. The generators we have are overloaded and we need to replace them with larger ones.
Q: How do you distribute electricity and water fairly, as a limited resource, to Idlib residents?
We have divided the city up into ten sectors, each with roughly the same number of residents. Each day, water is pumped to one of the sectors.
That means that each area gets water once every 10 days, which puts pressure on us and the residents. On those days, we pump water for eight hours and the consumer gets it for around four, because it takes time to fill up the network and pipes.
Electricity comes for three or four hours per day. It isn’t electricity from the public grid—we haven’t seen that since rebels captured the city two years ago—but from diesel-powered generators.
We buy crude oil from Islamic State- and regime-held areas, for very high prices. The oil is not refined, so this damages the generators used to pump water or provide electricity.