A glimpse of hope for better times ahead

Participatory development planning provides responsive services to Syria’s poorest communities


Saharij Al Wahhab truck delivers bread daily to locals Photo credit: UNDP Syria

Raqqa, once a prosperous province that hosted one of the capitals of Harun Al-Rashid, the famous Abbasid Caliph, has seen a dramatic downturn in recent years.

Highlights

  • Raqqah is situated in the north of Syria covering an area of 19,616 km²
  • The governorate has a population of 921,000 (2010 census office estimate)
  • Raqqah ranks first out of 14 governorates on human poverty with a rate of 21.2
  • Illiteracy among its inhabitants stands at 29.1%, exceeding double the national average of 14.2%.

Even before the crisis in March 2011, the Raqqa population grappled with some of the worst development indicators in the country. The governorate ranks first (out of 14) on human poverty with a rate of 21.2. Illiteracy among its inhabitants stands at 29.1 percent, the highest nationally, exceeding double the national average of 14.2 percent.

With the worst health indicators nationally, 7.3 percent of its people are not expected to reach the age of 40, and 1 out of 4 of its children are underweight (22.7 percent).  With recent events, this bleak scene has only worsened.

Yet hope persists against such tremendous odds. 

M.E.E., a 53 years old farmer from Saharij Al Wahab, a small village 50 km away from the nearest centre of commerce - Al Thawra city, is happy to be able to secure for his children a daily supply of bread. A principal item in all daily meals, bread for Syrians is a necessity.

Business vendors periodically bring food and other necessities to Saharij Al Wahab and neighbouring villages, but they charge exorbitant prices for their service; prices so high that M. and his fellow villagers could not afford.

Today, a local villager drives a small truck daily to Al Thawra city to pick up fresh bread and other food items and distributes them to every household in the village. The municipality of Saharij Al Wahhab acquired the truck as part of UNDP’s Articulating Governance for Local Development (ART GOLD) project.

Employing extensive participatory methods, the USD 1.2 million project engages local inhabitants, key actors and stakeholders in mapping needs, setting priorities and identifying sustainable means to meet those priority needs. Local production of bread was not feasible due to the scarcity of fuel, electricity or wood, in this arid desert community. The community identified the truck as a priority solution.

“With the prices that visiting vendors charged, eating bread became a luxury, when in fact it is our staple food. For years I have had to travel around 40 km daily in search of affordable bread,” comments M.

In such hard times as M. and his fellow villagers are enduring because of the un-abating conflict fulfilling basic food needs is a tremendous relief. “You cannot imagine how such a small solution has changed my life.  Now, I am not only able to save money, paying normal market price for bread, but I am also saving my time and effort for more productive endeavours.”

Before this project, villagers of Saharij Al Wahhab have never had an active role in proposing or participating in local development plans, or voicing their needs and priorities to their local authorities. They had to be trained initially on basic concepts of participatory local development planning and community mobilization.

Women, youth, farmers, and professionals from the village participated in the planning exercise, collectively drafting the first ever local development plan that reflects the real priorities of local development in Saharij Al Wahhab in health, education, environment, and local economic development sectors.

A similar exercise in neighbouring village, Tel Othman, identified providing the local medical Centre with necessary equipment and supplies to enable it to offer primary health care services effectively as a priority.

Despite the crisis, the comprehensive participatory approach of the project and local citizen planning committees it has established have endured and provided a much needed mechanism for responding to urgent and changing priorities of the people and local communities, under great hardship.

For the people of Saharij Al Wahhab and Tel Othman it has instilled hope in a future that they are certain will come soon. And when it does, they will be ready to plan it and manage through their own efforts, with a determination to bring back the old glories of Raqqa.