It is easy to forget the many ways electricity provides the basic comforts of modern life, but without it food goes bad, water stays in the ground, and basic appliances won’t run. However, this is often the reality for residents of the Homs countryside, where much of the electrical grid has been destroyed in fighting.
The extent of the damage to powerlines differs from area to area and city to city, but the city Rastan, which was the site of several large rebel-regime battles in addition to regime bombardment, the grid was completely destroyed.
As a result, locals took to gathering up the remains of the power lines and transformers to sell them as scrap, thinking they had no use as the regime had cut off electricity to the city. However, some residents were able to use the parts to transfer electricity created from diesel generators or from ad-hoc grids in nearby villages where the electricity had not been cut off.
The head of Rastan’s local council, Faysal al-Azo, explained to the Syrian Voice: “the Local Council has only played a small role in solving the problem of the electrical grid, because there is no one source of energy to develop an organized grid on, in addition to our limited financial means.”
Despite the difficulties, an engineer in the city suggested organizing primary transformers to branch out organized grids from. After the project started however, the lack of an implementing authority to carry out decisions became a problem. So the powerlines and parts of the grid lay in the streets, and people began using them to get electricity for themselves.
However, these ad-hoc and self-installed electrical grids proved very dangerous: six people died trying to complicated electrical work.
Nour, a young man in his twenties told the Syrian Voice about his close call.
“I was injured while in a workshop working on extending the power lines and the nerves in my left leg were damaged. I also lost part of my liver and was burned badly.”
In other areas, the grids were not damaged as badly and the organization of the electrical networks was better. When the government was pushed out of the city of Tablisah and the Local Council took its place, the Council made sure to repair the grid, in addition to expanding it with transformers that serviced all the area’s residents, according to Abdul Karim Khashfa, a former Council worker who oversaw the project.
However, like other cities, Tablisah suffered when the regime completely cut off electricity.
“The armed groups put pressure on the regime, forcing it to sign a deal to return power to the city, and now power has been on and off for the past four months. Because of this lack, residents with means have turned to alternatives, including solar power and wind power,” explained Khashfa.
“Solar panels have turned out to be very effective given the unreliable electricity. It helps light houses and runs the equipment that brings water out of the wells. There are more of them set up in rural areas and farms than in the city in order to protect them from bombing, as one panel costs $500,” he added.
Wind mills cost less than solar panels, so more people can use them, but they can only provide lighting for homes for a limited amount of hours.
Generators are other alternative locals have tried. One group of houses set up a large capacity generator and ran cables to their individual homes, but the cost of running these generators is often too high for locals: there is the constant cost of fuel on top of repairs and maintenance, according to Mahmoud Bahbouh, who coordinates the use of a generator.
However, electricity is neither of the first nor the last problem that the people of Homs—and Syria at a whole—face. But with every problem they face, residents in opposition areas come up with ingenious solutions to overcome the difficult circumstances.