Fall 2021

signals of change

“When Raqqa was liberated, it was complete- ly destroyed. Now you go to the city, you see streets opened, you see services provided,” says Mohamad Hamish, the Deputy Chief of Party for FURAT+. “If you go to Aleppo City, you see the same destruction, but nobody touched the rubble in those areas. We contributed to the stability of this area and people returned to Raqqa City. People in Aleppo City did not return.” This slow trickle of returnees like Ahmad to a country devastated by war is a sign that these efforts are making communities livable again. Programs like FURAT+, which operates in Raqqa and elsewhere in Northeastern Syria, are supporting local authorities and citizens as they pick up the pieces. The toll of war By any measure, Syria continues to be a major humanitarian crisis. Since the civil war erupted in 2011, half of Syria’s 22 million people have become displaced or refugees. Syrians and international partners are taking tentative steps to restore stability to the coun- try. In the Northeast, known as the breadbasket of Syria, ISIS has been pushed out, and Kurdish control of the semi-autonomous region has led to a tenuous respite. Though violence from re- gime-backed militias and ISIS sleeper cells still

Remnants of war line the streets in Raqqa, Syria, posing a threat to residents looking to move forward.

First responders trained by FURAT+ have removed more rubble than the volume of the Empire State Building.

War is no longer waged on the streets of the Northern Syria city of Raqqa, though the years of conflict are ever present. Buildings weakened by artillery, mortars and bombs are collapsing and have become the new threat to residents. “There was a real danger [to me and my fam- ily],” says Ahmad, who returned to Raqqa in 2017 after the city’s liberation from the Islamic State (ISIS). He asked that his last name not be used. “Large slabs of concrete were falling around us constantly.” Knowing that the falling pieces have caused countless accidents and killed children, Ah- mad reported the dangerous situation in his neighborhood to a new emergency response team. A day later, his home became one of 377 houses, hospitals, schools and buildings cleared of debris. Funded by the U.S. State Department, the Facilitating Urban Recovery and Transition Plus (FURAT+) project established and trained these first responder teams to clear rubble and provide emergency relief to Raqqa’s residents. Since 2018, FURAT+’s teams have removed more than 40million cubic feet of rubble, which is more than the volume of NewYork’s Empire State Building. Rubble removal is easy to take for granted, but its implications are enormous.

Rubble removal transforms war-torn cities like Raqqa

The heart of all this is that even though we cannot end the war, we can make people’s lives better. We can let people in these communities know that we care about them and work to bring some normalcy and sanity back to their daily lives.”

-Richard Jaskot, Director of Stabilization and Development

Photos by Beshr Abdulhadi via Flicker (top left, center right); FURAT+ Staff (center left); Skip Brown (Jaskot)

16 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

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