The locality of al-Baghuz Fawqani in Deir az-Zor province in eastern Syria became famous in international media for being the last locality that was under the Islamic State's control in Syria. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the U.S.-led international coalition, captured the locality from the Islamic State in March 2019.
In my view, it is unfair that we should only remember or think about localities like al-Baghuz Fawqani because of the Islamic State's occupation of these places. It is also important to track and highlight any return of ordinary life to these localities. Otherwise, the media coverage amounts to little more than opportunistic war reporting lacking in humanity and appreciation for the fact that these places had real, ordinary people living in them. These original inhabitants (both the displaced and those who return) should at least receive as much attention from us as that which we give to the Islamic State fighters and their families.
To discuss the current situation in al-Baghuz Fawqani, I interviewed today the director of a local NGO called 'Hope of al-Baghuz' (Amal al-Baghuz). The interview is slightly edited for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: Currently what is the number of inhabitants in al-Baghuz Fawqani? And what was the number before the war? And what are its main tribes?
A: Before the war the inhabitants were around 30,000 people. Currently around 20,000 people have returned. The tribes are al-Marasama, al-Akidat, al-Rahibiyeen, al-Jubur. And the Mashahada and Obeid are a small proportion.
Q: Right. How is the services situation in the locality? Like electricity. Is there any national grid electricity? And the water is available in the pipes of the homes?
A: The services situation is degraded. There is still no electricity. Of course the poles and network are completely destroyed. And regarding the water, the purification plant is brokwn down, and the water network suffered many aircraft strikes.
Q: Yes. So the village relies on private generators only?
Q: And the water comes from tankers?
A: Yes, and at elevated prices.
Q: I see. Since the liberation of the village have there been any building and development projects
A: The Hope of al-Baghuz aid organization has worked on a number of voluntary projects, including:
Returning the people who have limited income to their homes through renting cars, removing the mines from the homes of people of limited income for free, cleaning the school of al-Baghuz al-Gharbi because it is the only remaining school as the rest are out of service, renting a house and turning it into a school, and a vaccination campaign for Leishmaniasis. As for the partnerships and work with donor parties, Hope of al-Baghuz has implemented a project to renovate the Farmer Association in al-Baghuz in partnership with the We'am program. And currently till now we are implementing the project of supporting the greenery [i.e. supporting growing of crops] in partnership with the Creative program.
Q: God grant you success. What are the main challenges in terms of services and the humanitarian situation? And is the aid organization independent?
A: The challenges that are facing the people of the area: the fact that the supporting parties are afraid of the area as it witnessed the final battle. In summary the problem is the lack of support from the donor programs. The humanitarian situation is very tragic. Most of the inhabitants are waiting for the aid that should be presented to them so they can live through it because their situation is lacking, amid the absence of the interest of the aid organizations and donor parties in this group of people. The aid organization is independent and not affiliated with any political faction.
Q: Regarding the supporting parties, are most of them international?
Q: How has the the rise of the price of the dollar impacted life in the village?
A: It has had a negative impact because the majority of the people have lost their interests or homes and are sitting in the shade of an obscene rise in the prices of goods.
Q: Yes. Finally how is the security situation in the locality?
A: The security situation is very good. But there some officials in the SDF in the area who undertake arbitrary arrests in the village on the pretext of cells affiliated with the Dawla organization [Islamic State]. And all of them are flimsy and untrue excuses and accusations.I a little ago came from sahra [late night meeting] among guys who are my friends, and praise be to God the situation is excellent.