Reconstruction of Aleppo’s Old City faces cultural, logistical challenges

People walk past the old customs buildings, left, and Peoria restaurant, right, near Aleppo's historic citadel, in the regime-controlled area of the city, last year. (File photo/Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2017

Reconstruction of Aleppo’s Old City faces cultural, logistical challenges

DAMASCUS: When Diana — a young woman from Aleppo, Syria, who now lives in London — saw the new facade of her family’s ancient home and others like it in Al-Siffahieh in the Old City of Aleppo, she was underwhelmed.
“(They) look really good, but they don’t feel like home,” she said. “We loved the vintage, washed-out stones because they were material evidence of the glorious past, which gave Aleppo’s ancient city an exotic air.”
Syria’s civil war, which erupted in 2011, has seen Aleppo’s Old City — a location of rich cultural heritage filled with significant archaeological sites, including the Great Umayyad Mosque and the Citadel, dating back as far as the 12th century — transformed into a battlefront for most of the four years from 2012 to 2016, with much of its historical wealth damaged or destroyed.
In January this year, a UNESCO-led mission reported, “Approximately 60 percent of the old city has been severely damaged, with 30 percent totally destroyed.” 
In May, plans were announced to renovate and restore around 250 buildings in Aleppo’s Old City. Tim Williams of the University College of London Institute of Archaeology warns that such processes often fail to take into account the needs and desires of local communities.
“The danger is that top-down, externally motivated projects will focus on the commercially attractive rather that what enables communities to feel that Aleppo is once more their city and home,” Williams said. 
“Aleppo is an example of the need for engaging with the needs of those communities to rebuild themselves, and to examine how heritage and archaeology can contribute meaningfully to that process.”
Mazen Samman, UNESCO’s associate program coordinator in Aleppo, said in August: “Our vision is to rebuild the Old City exactly as it was before the war, with the same stones where we can.” An admirable sentiment, but — Williams suggested — perhaps a misguided one.
“There will always be compromises in what can be rebuilt. Interiors will certainly change and there needs to be care that it is not a pastiche or just facadism, but a realistic attempt to rebuild communities, while also providing 21st century facilities,” he said. “There is a place for new design alongside historic reconstruction. Rather than considering individual buildings, the reconstruction needs to focus on capturing the sense of place of Aleppo and working toward restoring that — the feeling of distinct districts or the central souks, for example.” That would, he stressed, require “a holistic approach, working with local communities, to identify the priorities for reconstruction or repair.”
Williams highlighted one project that already offers hope for a sensitive, appropriate restoration of Aleppo’s Old City — a $648,000 heritage conservation program established by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) that will train Syrian refugees to rebuild historic heritage sites “with a thoughtful program that calls for the rehabilitation of the historic souk, in order to pave the way for the return of commerce to Aleppo and for the recovery of the sense of communal space that the marketplace once engendered.”
But Williams added that UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is concerned that rehabilitation and restoration works are taking place without quality control and stressed the need for detailed studies and extensive fieldwork before rebuilding begins.
“The pace of redevelopment is always problematic for heritage: Communities want to rebuild their shattered lives and spaces as soon as possible, understandably,” Williams said.
“Good historical reconstruction and repair often takes more time than tearing down the remnants and building anew. The heritage community needs to show that the additional process of good quality restoration and crafts skills are an essential part of building something that can draw communities together again.”
There have already been positive signs that that can happen. On Nov. 17, locals celebrated the completion of restoration work on the ancient Souk Khan El Gomrok — first built in the 16th century — with 100 stores resuming business after being shut for years; exactly the kind of project that Williams believes could result in a successful restoration of the Old City.
“If Aleppo is to become a destination for international visitors again — a vital part of its economy before the war,” he said, “it needs to place sustainable heritage conservation at the heart of a strategic vision.”


Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Updated 28 February 2020

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

  • Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.