Reports

Syrians sift through rubble and debris to make a living in rebel-held Idlib

By Mahmoud Shamali and Justin Clark

IDLIB: Residents of opposition-held Idlib are collecting and re-purposing scrap metal from destroyed buildings and homes, a lucrative trade that exposes the local community to pollution and radiation, an environment expert from the province tells the Syrian Voice.

“Air pollution is one of the biggest issues with re-purposing metals” says Fahed al-Eissa, a former engineer with the Syrian Ministry of Environmental Affairs.

“These facilities are constantly burning diesel and working with radioactive materials that can cause cancer.”

For many local residents affected by the conflict, the risks are worth taking.

“It’s good money” says Abu Ward, a former florist turned scrap collector. “It helps us survive.”

Abu Ward and others take their collected scrap to refineries in Idlib like Muhammad al-Amer’s, which operate with no regulation or oversight.

“We start by separating the metal from plastic and other debris, and then we melt it down in a furnace” explains al-Amer. The result is a 25kg block of aluminum, iron, and other alloys that can be sold to workshops, factories, and construction companies.

“Aluminum is the most desired, most important metal that refineries re-purpose” al-Amer tells the Syrian Voice. “It’s easy to work with and can be found in large quantities, especially in destroyed houses and buildings.”

There is no shortage of destroyed infrastructure in Idlib, which has seen intense fighting and bombardment since the conflict began in 2012. Scrapping the remains of destroyed buildings allows residents to rebuild more cheaply, explains workshop owner Muhammad an-Najjar.

“Recycled iron is available at 30 percent the cost of new iron” an-Najjar tells the Syrian Voice. “New houses can be built and those damaged partially by bombing can be repaired for cheaper than buying new Iron.”

But the rush to rebuild what’s been lost might be endangering the community, warns engineer el-Eissa.

“There needs to be periodic measurements of dangerous chemicals in Idlib. There also needs to be a way to regulate these facilities and dispose of waste – but there isn’t one.”

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