Opposition local councils in the northern Latakia countryside are struggling to provide water, electricity and humanitarian aid to around 25,000 civilians amidst accusations that the provincial council is corrupt and inefficient.
There are seven main local councils (LCs) in the northern Latakia countryside that are supposed to provide municipal services to more than ninety villages. They face numerous challenges including a dearth of humanitarian organizations that give them aid, a lack of concrete development programs, and the fact that many civilians have fled airstrikes in the region especially after Russia intervened in Syria in September 2015.
Civilians in villages across northern Latakia, especially in the Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal al-Turkman regions, made for opposition-controlled areas in the Idlib countryside because of the intensity of the Russian bombardment and regime forces’ progress into the countryside.
Russian warplanes have targeted local council buildings and destroyed public facilities including schools, health clinics, and water pumping stations in the northern Latakia countryside, which has all but stopped the work of the local councils.
“Every local council building was hit by the warplanes, which led employees to flee for the border like the rest of the residents, especially after Assad’s forces and sectarian militias stormed the area,” Mustafa Haj Bikri, head of the Duweirka local council, told the Syrian Voice.
“The local councils have become more or less paralyzed after they lost their buildings and means of communication, and after workers fled for other areas,” he said.
“The ministry in the Syrian Interim Government responsible for overseeing the LCs had a lot of personnel who resigned, or were forced to resign, and the ministry was restructured. So the organization that was supposed to be the main supporter of the LCs, their spinal column if you will, was shut down, and the contagion spread to the local council branches that were paralyzed.”
“The LCs stopped providing nearly all services after residents fled to IDP camps and other areas. They no longer play any role in service provision, at a time when people need them more and more.”
Accusations of corruption
It has been a year since residents fled from the northern Latakia countryside, and since then they have lacked basic services like roads, sanitation, and food handouts. These responsibilities fall under the local councils’ purview, which used to provide them.
“Local councils face problems with the provincial council, which doesn’t actually do anything, and isn’t here on the ground,” Mohammed Hamdou, head of the Selma Local Council’s Service Office, told the Syrian Voice.
“The provincial council didn’t live up to its duties, and ignored the local councils that interact directly with civilians,” he said.
“Donor organizations only give aid to the provincial council, and don’t give the local branches anything.”
Mohammed Haj Yusuf, a displaced person living in the camps along the Turkish border, told the Syrian Voice that “I’m from Latakia, and I never left the province, but I haven’t gotten a thing from what is called the Latakia Provincial Council…it’s only an imaginary entity on social media.”
“The only thing I have to say to them is this: you should fear God because of what you’ve done to us!”
The Syrian Voice’s correspondent tried to contact the Latakia Provincial Council representative for comment, but received no response.
“The provincial council is building new headquarters on the border with Turkey, close to the IDP camps,” a local council president who preferred anonymity told the Syrian Voice.
“Heads of the local councils think it’s too late after nearly a year has passed since people were displaced. This past year was hardest on displaced people because of a lack of services.”
Mohammed al-Shaar, head of the Kanbasa local council, told the Syrian Voice that “the provincial council has heavy machinery and cars capable of providing necessary services, but it doesn’t give aid to the local councils or directly to IDPs. Rather, it wastes money and resources that it should be spending to help IDPs as fast as possible.”
Displaced people living in the camps along the Turkish border, originally from the Latakia countryside, feel slighted because they lack things necessary to live a life of decency. They’re in a “pitiable situation,” several displaced people told the Syrian Voice.
“Where’s the provincial council that represents us? Especially since the local councils, which used to take care of some of our needs, are now absent,” Abdul Salam Mohammed, a displaced person in one of the camps along the Turkish border, told the Syrian Voice.
“After the provincial council’s long absence, its employees are now looking out over us from their brand new headquarters. They should have spent the money building facilities and making these camps livable.”
The assistant head of local administration in the Syrian Interim Government met with a number of local council representatives on July 25 to discuss restarting the local councils’ work.
The meeting resulted in the formation of a working group to help IDPs, but the group has yet to begin its work, according to IDPs in al-Limdiya camp who hope for better days to come.