RAQQA – The wall of white ‘cells’ is shining white. Abu Majid (header picture) pulls open doors of the small boxes behind which wires are hidden. The ‘cells’ are crucial parts of power plant number 4 in the city centre of Raqqa in the north of Syria. They arrived two weeks ago and he and his colleagues installed them immediately, of course. It can’t be long now before no less than 65% of the city will have electricity again.
Outside the generators roar. In the battle for Raqqa, which eventually drove ISIS out of the city in October 2017, most of the electricity infrastructure in the city was destructed. Power plants 2 and 3 are up and running again, but they only provide the outskirts and rural areas of the city with electricity. Plant 1 will be dealt with later, it’s Plant 4 that it is all about now.
The problem is, says Hussam Jassem of ERT (Early Recovery Team), that international rules demand that spare parts of the plant can only be delivered via the central government in Damascus and that President Assad’s government won’t give that permission. The ERT is a local NGO that is being financed by USAid to help restore public services. The city is now under the control of the groups that kicked ISIS out: the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Arabic-Kurdish group that was supported by the international coalition lead by the US. Luckily they have now found a way: parts assembled in Turkey are exported legally to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and then transported to Raqqa. Don’t let the Turks hear about it, because they appreciate the SDF even less than Assad does.
Abu Majid’s white shirt is very dirty and so are his beige trousers. What makes him so dirty in a power plant that doesn’t work? Walk with me, he says. There is something to be cleaned, repair or clear every day. In the hall where the ‘cells’ cover the wall, parts of the floor have been removed. ‘All kinds of things have to be connected there and I have to lay down flat on my belly for that.’ He touches a cable: black from the destruction that reigned here before the repairing of the plant started. ‘There has been a fire and there is still soot here.’
Not this year
Whenever Abu Majid walks through the market, people stop him: when will it happen? When will we have twenty four hours of electricity again? He has been working for the public company for three decades so you could say he is Mister Electricity. ‘Not this year’, he thinks. ‘When the plant is working again, there will be work to be done at the distribution stations and the cables to the houses have to be put back in order. I say: 2020.’
The Dutch version of this short piece was published in weekly Groene Amsterdammer. Bigger Raqqa stories will follow!