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Members from the local community in the Old City of Homs gather at the Jesuit residency where one of the 18 communal wells has been rehabilitated. The opening of the wells was marked by a small blessing, carried out by religious leaders from the Muslim and Christian communities. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

(Homs, Syria) December 23, 2014 – Since the ceasefire for the Old City of Homs was signed earlier in the year, Homs has no longer occupied the news headlines from Syria. Recovering and restoring the Old City to any semblance of its former self will take years of reconstruction. In the meantime, those who are able to, have returned to their homes to try rebuild what has been destroyed and reclaim their property. 

Starting small, Jesuit Refugee Service, in cooperation with the local communities, has rehabilitated 18 water wells – two of which are in the rural areas of Homs – to supply residents with potable water. Last week the wells were officially opened and blessed in a small ceremony that also involved local sheikhs and priests living in the Old City of Homs. In total the wells provide water for over 9600 people.

"This project represents the will that exists within Syrian people, even in this moment of great suffering, to cross the so-called lines of division amongst communities in order to share vital resource. It is a small yet powerful sign of hope to see some of the local leaders of Homs praying together and publicly expressing their desire to share such a precious resource with all the members of the community regardless of their background," said a JRS staff member involved on the project.

The conflict in Homs over the past two years was fought bitterly with a large scale of destruction. The city’s demographics have been drastically altered along sectarian lines due to the conflict as an exodus of people fled Homs to other areas of the country or across borders into neighboring states.

Although the fighting has since halted, and is more or less confined to the neighborhood of Al Waer where the government and non-state actors are engaged in fighting, living conditions in Homs are still dire.

"There is such a massive shortage of water, electricity, diesel, petrol and gas that daily life has become incredibly difficult. Many families who eked it out and survived war are packing up and leaving Homs now because they can’t survive the shortages," says Ziad Hilal S.J., the project director in Homs.

"We have a water crisis not only in the Old City of Homs, but across the whole city. There are long hours without electricity, accompanied by a lack of diesel to run the engines at the water stations, meaning water doesn’t reach the city for two or three days at a time."

The wells rehabilitation was identified as an urgent need when the siege of Old Homs ended and residents were able to return. Not only is providing drinking water a necessity, it also eases pressure on families experiencing hardship and preserves people’s dignity when they have lost so much else.

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by Zerene Haddad
JRS Middle East and North Africa Regional Advocacy and Communications Officer

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