By Mahmoud a-Shimali and Avery Edelman
A town in Syria’s opposition-held northwest began repairs to its electric grid earlier this month, looking to gain access to a power line sourced from government-held territory.
The local council in Kansafra, a town located in Idlib province, hopes that access to the power line will ensure consistent electrical supply for the town’s hospital, bakery and water well, according to the council’s president, Mohammad al-Hasan.
Electrical lines in Idlib are sourced from a 230 kilovolt power line that runs through the province as it carries electricity from the regime-held Mahardeh power plant in Hama province south of Idlib to regime-held territory in Aleppo city to the north.
After rebel forces captured Idlib city from regime control in early 2015, access to the power line was cut off throughout the province, leaving towns and cities like Kansafra to rely entirely upon diesel and solar power sources for all electrical needs.
A 2015 agreement between the Syrian opposition’s service management authority and the Syrian regime, however, allows limited access to the government’s electrical network to power vital social services. In exchange, electricity is delivered to Aleppo city and its water pumps.
An agreement to bring the line back into operation was mediated by the Aleppo Residents’ Initiative, the Red Crescent and Jaish al-Fatah [Army of Conquest] in early 2016, reported SMART News Agency.
In a conversation with the Syrian Voice, Amr al-Qasem, director of Idlib’s electricity administration, said the government power line, commonly referred to as “the humanitarian power line,” now provides electricity for public services in 80 percent of Idlib province.
The Syrian Voice also spoke with Abeeda Dandoush, a resident of Kafr Nabl, one of the towns already benefiting from the power line. She said the electricity supply has resulted in a decrease in the cost of a bundle of bread from 250 Syrian pounds [45 cents] to less than 200.
Furthermore, Dandoush said the line reduced pressure on electrical generators that civilians depend on in their homes, increasing the availability of electricity from three hours per day to six.
In Kafar Roma, another town connected to the line, the electricity provides power for the town’s water pumps for eight hours per day.
According to Mohammad Khayr al-Sharteh, president of Kafar Roma’s local council, households wishing to connect to the water network pay the council 1,500 Syrian pounds [about three US dollars] per month, which contributes to costs undertaken by the electrical administration for maintenance work. This has benefited 20,000 of 25,000 residents in the area.
Al-Sharteh emphasized that access to the power line is an alternative to the use of diesel. “The cost of utilizing the line is about 300,000 Syrian pounds [545 US dollars] per month, or about 10,000 pounds per day, whereas the use of diesel can cost from 90,000 to 130,000 pounds per day, depending on the [daily] price of diesel.”
Receiving power from a line that runs through both regime and opposition-held territory nonetheless comes with its own challenges, in particular the threat of clashes near any of the line’s transfer stations.
According to Amr al-Qasem, recent clashes in northern Hama near Soran interrupted the line’s service and repairs to the system are ongoing. He says the cost of implementing and maintaining the line has now reached 18,000 US dollars.
The so-called “humanitarian power line” is not the only instance of cooperation between the Syrian government and opposition groups.
The regime continues to pay teachers’ salaries at government-run schools in Idlib province, as the Syrian Voice reported. Elsewhere, in southern Syria, construction material and fuel from regime-controlled Damascus are exchanged for agricultural products in opposition-held Daraa.