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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Syria's future is wedded to cement and consensus

Reconstruction is a key issue of our age. It will require clear thinking and change to be successful 

Aid convoys pass destroyed buildings in Syria earlier this month.  Mohammed Badra / EPA
Aid convoys pass destroyed buildings in Syria earlier this month. Mohammed Badra / EPA

The question of how to resolve Syria's future requires a complex answer and among the realities facing any efforts to achieve a consensus is the sheer scale of the reconstruction required - physical, social and political - and how it will be funded.

A dozen years ago, a construction boom was in full swing across the Gulf and Dubai was the epicentre of that uptick. Around that time, more than one fanciful story was attached to the boom to explain what was going on in the emirate: a quarter of the world’s construction cranes were reported to be operating in the emirate in 2006, for instance. What was undoubtedly true was that Dubai needed building materials – and lots of them – to keep construction projects moving.

While Dubai’s experience a decade ago was purely a consequence of the forces of supply and demand, today the wider region is facing a similar supply-side issue, but for very different reasons and on an even bigger scale.

As The National reported, it would take 50 million tonnes of cement a year to rebuild Syria, Iraq and Libya and other parts of the Middle East ravaged by conflict. However, that estimate may be quite conservative and the problem is not just restricted to construction materials. World Bank senior adviser Abdullah Al Dardari said new building technology is “necessary if we want to see people going back to their homes and living productive lives”. He also pointed out that physical infrastructure is much easier to reinstate than a just, reasonable social contract in conflict-affected territories.

The scale of reconstruction that will be required in Syria and elsewhere, including those parts of Iran and Iraq affected by a strong earthquake this week, will make earlier building booms seem almost inconsequential.

There is, of course, no positive sentiment around Syria today, where the government in Damascus is a powerful impediment to progress. Reconstruction is a complex task, especially in territories governed by the twin evils of force and injustice. In time, Syria will need cement and it will need consensus over its broader future, which is far harder to forge, as numerous rounds of failed talks and years of war have shown us. Buildings can be rebuilt, societies are more fragile than that.

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