The Local Councils in the northern Homs Province have found themselves drowning amidst waves of public outcry over the continued lack of even the most basic services, like water, medicine, and electricity, in these areas. These councils and the institutions they set up to parallel those of the regime have to contend with an infrastructure mostly destroyed by fighting and the pullout of government services from the area.
Local Councils, like those in Homs, emerged over the course of the revolution as alternative to regime municipalities.The initial idea in February 2013, when councils were started by a group of Syrian specialists, was to help develop Syrian society by giving local communities power to administer their own affairs and resources. The Councils included members who had professional experience relevant to the council’s projects who were willing to volunteer their time. The work evolved over time from small charitable activities to an organized network of councils operating under the Interim Government based in Turkey.
However, the councils faced many difficulties in their work, most notably their lack of funding. A situation now exists where independent aid organizations and the councils compete to provide services to local residents.
Abu Mohammed, the breadwinner of a 7-person family, told the Syrian Voice, “there are shortcomings in the basic services the Local Councils provide to people. These include water, electricity, and bread. I have to pay SP10,000 every month to get bread and water from wells, which is a great deal of money especially given the tough living circumstances people around here contend with.”
In his view, aid organizations should be focused on populations like orphans, children, and other at-risk communities in the local community, and won’t be able to provide services for the community at large.
Faisal al-Azou, the head of the Local Council in the City of Rastan told the Syrian Voice “the Council here can no longer provide any services due to the regime siege on the city. Previously, we were responsible for providing basic service to 100,000 people.”
“All the projects we were implementing have stopped. The last project we had was running water pumps, but that stopped about two months ago,” added al-Azou. He noted that the Council’s had only SP25,000 left in a budget meant to service an entire city.
Beyond basic services, the Councils are meant to help with administrative and organization work, including handling the paperwork for business and real estate deals, as well as administering the buildings of the city’s institutes and the work of charitable organizations. This work, at least, the Councils have been to continue providing.
As organizations, Councils have been a constant since the beginning of the revolution, maintaining their basic organization despite a changing staff. This stands in contrast to other organizations which usually don’t operate for longer than a year before stopping, after which a new organization doing similar work replaces it.
Al-Azou doesn’t see why grand-making and aid organizations don’t provide more support for the Local Councils, as they exist in in an organization hierarchy with the Interim Government at the top. He thinks the Councils are qualified to take over implementation of any project serving residents, especially given the number of studies the Councils have carried out on development projects like pumping water and solar power.