By Mahmoud a-Shimali

IDLIB: After 6 years of war, Idlib province’s construction industry is experiencing a relative boom. Much of the province’s infrastructure has been destroyed by conflict, and international and domestic aid organizations are turning to local contractors to rebuild what’s been lost.

The demand for labor has reinvigorated the job market, as out-of-work carpenters, metal workers, construction workers, and even unskilled laborers are being employed for reconstruction efforts and other humanitarian projects.

It can provide a relatively decent living—$5-7 a day for the average contractor—but contracting is a wholly unregulated field, 43-year-old contractor Waleed al-Ismail tells the Syrian Voice.

When a contractor takes a job from an organization, there is nothing to guarantee they will be paid for their work, al-Ismail tells the Syrian Voice.

Waheeb al-Aisi, 28, is an Idlib resident who makes his living doing contract work, despite his lack of experience in construction.

“I don’t remember ever doing work like this,” al-Aisi tells the Syrian Voice. “But with how many job opportunities are out there, my friends and I decided to give it a try.”

One of Waheeb’s latest projects was repairing 13 schools in Areha—a town in southern Idlib province—a contract worth $55,000 funded by the Kosov aid foundation.

“We were able to make $7,000 in just a month,” al-Aisi tells the Syrian Voice.

Getting into the business was challenging, he explains. Al-Aisi’s first experience was with the Polish Humanitarian Organization (PAH), who offered a $60,000 contract for building sanitation facilities at a camp for displaced people in Haram, a city in northern Idlib province. Though Waheeb and his colleagues submitted a proposal, the organization declined to hire them.

Eyad Abu Hazem, a coordinator for projects in one of Idlib’s aid organizations, tells the Syrian Voice that the process of contracting labor is largely similar to the process that existed before the war.

First, contracts are studied and reviewed by specialists. Later, they are presented to contractors who pitch their proposals to the organization. The organization will, in turn, accept the most efficient proposal.

Halfway through a project, Abu Hazem’s organization typically pays from 10-40 percent of the contract’s value. The rest is paid after the project is completed, provided the terms of the contract were met by the contractors.
“For every project, we’ll usually receive more than 25 proposals from contractors,” Abu Hazem tells the Syrian Voice.

Local resident Rasheel al-Amr, 57, believes that using local contractors is better than an organization completing a project on its own. By using local contractors, aid organizations can complete humanitarian projects while simultaneously helping to curtail unemployment, he explains.

Idlib’s local council hopes to continue the trend of contracted labor. The government body met at the beginning of 2017 to lay out plans for $108,000 worth of projects, including a lighting project in Sarmada and a power generator project in Saraqab, two cities in rebel-controlled Idlib province.

Translated by Justin Clark