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As the Syria conflict enters its fifth year, the “What does it take to end the crisis?” campaign is gaining momentum. The hashtag #WhatDoesItTake has already been tweeted 26,000 times and the campaign has the potential to reach 60 million people. The campaign, however, is born out of frustration with the human cost of the Syrian conflict. Frustration with the fact that humanitarian assistance was never meant to be a solution. Everyone agrees, the solution to the Syria crisis is political. As such, the current stalemate can continue for many years.
Or, the situation can change overnight. The question is, if the Syria crisis ends tomorrow, is the international community ready to support peace in Syria? If it comes, peace in Syria will be a “patchwork peace”. In some areas, the fighting will continue. In others, people will start returning, rebuilding their homes, looking for jobs, wanting to send their children to school. Many people will return to cities, believing that security will be better and that health care, schools and job opportunities will be more accessible. Do we know which cities and which neighbourhoods are more likely to support returns? How will we address the complicated issue of land and property rights? In addition to physical reconstruction, what will we do to help rebuild divided societies?
If it comes, peace in Syria will bring a surge of private investment, again much of it in cities. Are we engaging with business leaders to understand the opportunities and challenges from their perspective? Do we have a prioritized plan for the critical infrastructure investments necessary to support economic recovery? How will we create the kinds of jobs that can convince youth to stop fighting and begin rebuilding their lives and communities?
In fact, we do not need to wait for peace in Syria. We can start now to promote stabilization and recovery. The reality is that Syria today is a patchwork. True, some areas are devastated and will require massive investment to re-build. But there are many others where small investments can make a huge difference. Many cities and neighbourhoods have been free from conflict for more than a year. These areas require a different approach – one with a stabilization, recovery and even peace-building agenda.
For the past 18 months, UN-Habitat has been experimenting with just this kind of approach, through pilot projects in Aleppo, Homs and Rural Damascus. The results have been encouraging. Syrians are eager to be consulted on their priorities. They contribute their own time and money to initiatives that support their coping strategies. And they protect the investments that have been made. The message is clear: after four years of conflict, we need a new approach to peace in Syria, one that begins with Syrians themselves. While local initiatives will not bring peace in Syria, they can help create practical local alternatives to continued conflict.