By Abdelrahman al-Hourani and Justin Clark
DARAA: Umm Ahmed lives with her son and daughter in a tiny house in southern Syria’s Daraa province. Now in her forties, she was left to raise her children alone after her husband was killed in a regime airstrike.
A few years before he died, Umm Ahmed’s husband planted trees around their house–enough to provide his family with a “year’s supply of olives and lemons,” she says.
The trees were Umm Ahmed’s “last memory” of her husband. But with no fuel to cook or keep warm this winter, she decided to cut down the trees for firewood.
“There was nothing I could do,” she says. “I was forced to cut down the trees my husband planted.”
As the winter cold sets in across southern Syria, families like Umm Ahmed’s are cutting down fruit-bearing orchards and decade-old trees for use as firewood, amidst a scarcity of fuels like diesel and kerosene.
The overharvesting of southern Syria’s orchards, which once supplied olives and fruit both to the domestic market and to neighboring Jordan, is damaging the local ecosystem in subtle but dangerous ways, says a local agricultural engineer.
Many of Daraa’s “eucalyptus trees have been cut down and turned into firewood,” says Abu Amer, an agriculture engineer from the north Daraa town of Inkhil.
“Although they don’t bear fruits, the eucalyptus flower is crucial for bees—damaging honey production,” he says.
As the demand for firewood increases, a single tree can now sell for anywhere from SP10,000 to SP15,000 (approximately $18-$27), a substantial sum in an area where average incomes range between SP30,000 to SP50,000 ($55 to $93), locals tell the Syrian Voice.
Abu Nidal, head of the local council in Inkhil, says local officials cannot ban the harvesting of local trees without providing an “alternative.”
The council has requested that humanitarian organizations provide the area’s needy families with fuel to heat their homes but they haven’t been able to secure anything yet, he says.
Elderly Inkhil resident Abu Shehab says that if sufficient aid was sent to Daraa, he and others would not have to uproot their trees for firewood.
“These organizations were supposed to help us find work and get ready for the winter,” he says.
“If they did, we wouldn’t have to cut down all these trees.”