After five years of uninterrupted fighting, the level of destruction seen in Syria is horrifying. So far, 1.2 million buildings have been damaged and another 400,000 have been completely destroyed. According to UNHCR estimates, more than 1.7 million people are living in makeshift shelters.
UNHCR is coordinating the work of UN agencies and NGOs in the areas of reconstruction and temporary housing in Syria. The SDC, in addition to contributing more than CHF 13 million to UNHCR, has provided that organisation with several experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit.
Henri Stalder, an engineer, is among those experts. From January 2014 to April 2016, Stalder managed a UNHCR project that puts a roof over the head of some 200,000 displaced Syrians per year. They focus on solid structures that provide more permanent housing than the tents hastily set up in refugee camps. “We work on two different types of shelters: the first is collective shelters, such as an abandoned school, where numerous families can live. We also rebuild individual houses that were destroyed by the fighting so that their former occupants can return home,” said Stalder.
The work on collective shelters consists in ensuring that each family has some privacy and that there are toilets and bathrooms allowing for proper hygiene. When it comes to individual houses, rebuilding cannot even start until a certain level of stability has been restored. “The permanence of the rebuilt houses and the safety of those living there depend on it,” said Stalder.
Housing and related services
UNHCR’s involvement is not limited to providing bricks and cement. “We have to make sure that the buildings have water and electricity and that there are medical services and stores in the area,” said Baria Alkafre, a young Syrian engineer who was on Stalder’s team. “There’s no point in putting a roof over the families’ head in an area where they would otherwise be left completely on their own”.
The UNHCR teams also take into account the needs of the surrounding communities, which play a key role in the successful return of displaced people.
All these considerations went into the assistance standards developed by Stalder and his UNHCR colleagues, whose goal is to provide victims of the conflict in Syria with the best possible quality of life. These standards, which were prepared in conjunction with the Syrian Ministry of Local Administration and various NGOs, are now applied by all humanitarian organisations involved in rebuilding Syria.