In an interview with semi-official news outlet Al-Watan on November 9, Fatima Al-Saleh –the director of Syria’s project to reuse the rubble of buildings in the production of concrete and other building materials – provided information on recycling rubble from a merely technical and economic perspective without relating it to housing, land, and property rights.
The rubble reuse project is a research endeavour funded by the Scientific Research and Technical Support Fund at the Ministry of Higher Education. It resulted from a 2016 agreement between the Ministry of Higher Education and the State Ministry for Environmental Affairs, which later merged with the Ministry of Local Administration. The project includes 14 researchers from the University of Aleppo and Aleppo city’s Environment Department. It aims to put a scale for classifying the types of stones found in rubble according to their physical and mechanical characteristics. These stones can then go towards various engineering uses. The project also includes designing different concrete, asphalt and construction block mixes and finding any insulation materials using recycled rubble. According to Al-Saleh, so far, the project has succeeded in studying the concrete slabs resulting from reusing bits of rubble for construction blocks.
However, in reality, only one small experiment has so far taken place, in the Al-Ramouseh area of Aleppo, according to Al-Saleh. The experiment was held with funding from the UNDP, the Syria Trust for Development, the Aleppo City Council and the Spanish NGO Rescate.
The experiment included transporting, breaking down and sorting rubble to extract possible materials for use in cement construction blocks. The UN Development Fund covered costs, including paying for workers, transport and equipment for breaking down and sorting the rubble. According to official statements, this equipment included 12 tractor-trailers, two trucks, a stone crusher and sorter and 12 cement block pressers.
In March 2019, the Aleppo City Council told the state-owned news outlet SANA that the experiment was a success, resulting in a project yet to construct 8,000 cement blocks. The council president added at the time that international donors provided the equipment needed for the project on the basis that it be given to the city council afterwards. According to him, municipal workers were being trained to continue the project.
According to Al-Saleh, this “success” led to a similar new project in Deir-ez-Zor, with international support. She did not provide any further details.
In 2019, the Rescate NGO supervised rehabilitating 128 apartments in the Al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, with funding from UNOCHA and implementation by the Diari company. Then in December 2021, Rescate oversaw preparation work on the popular Deir Hafer Souk in rural Aleppo in coordination with the Syria Trust for Development, the Aleppo governorate and the Deir Hafer City Council.
Al-Saleh stressed in her interview that recycling rubble is the best choice, while simply disposing it is costly. According to her, carrying out the recycling work in the same place is optimal, though it is still economically feasible to transport the rubble to other stations for recycling. She added that buildings now at risk of collapse could serve as clean rubble with high payoffs, though she didn’t clarify what she meant by “contaminated” rubble, which she said should be discarded.
Donors also obtained approval from the Prime Ministry to construct a rubble recycling station in Aleppo city, Al-Saleh said, but added that the project “had been halted.” She did not clarify who had funded or halted the project.
According to Al-Saleh, a green recovery project will soon be launched. The project will employ people wounded in the war to produce materials from the rubble “with high profitability and economic and social sustainability”. It is unclear what precisely the UNESCWA-supervised project will entail, and the plan does not mention Syria except to say that the Syrian government has committed to fight against desertification.
Meanwhile, Al-Saleh did not reference the most critical issue regarding the rubble: who owns it and who gets compensation for it. Law No. 3 of 2018, which addresses the removal of rubble resulting from natural or unnatural causes (or from laws stipulating demolition), gave only the owners of demolished properties the right to its monetary value. However, the law left it to local administrative units to determine that value after selling the rubble in public auctions or recycling it and deducing it from demolition costs.