The sole bread oven working in the rebel-held east Hama countryside opened its doors three weeks ago, after months of planning and work by both residents and the opposition Free Hama Provincial Council.
The new oven is located in rebel-held al-Hamra, one of three districts that make up the east Hama countryside. The area is home to 130 villages and 70,000 people, many internally displaced from other parts of Hama and surrounding provinces. Regime forces control the vast majority of Hama province.
A combination of bombardment and arrests of bakery owners drove al-Hamra’s five bakeries out of service, Abo Shadi Elhamwe, citizen journalist living in the east Hama countryside tells Syria Direct’s Alaa Nassar. Without a local source of bread, people had to travel up to 50km north to buy bread from rebel-held territories in Idlib province.
Producing three to four tons of bread a day, the new oven is outfitted with machinery from but is is only able to serve fewer than half of the residents of the al-Hamra region, or 27,000 people in 30 villages.
Riyan al-Ahmad, the head of the east Hama bread oven project, in the new facility earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Abo Shadi Elhamwe.
Even so, the new oven is “easing the burden of carrying bread over such long distances” and “increasing the quantity and lowering the price,” Elhamwe says.
The fear of further bombardment destroying the new bread oven is real, adds Elhamwe.
“I’m talking to you right now while under artillery bombardment.”
Q: How many people reside in the east Hama countryside, and how many villages does the bakery serve?
The bakery serves 30 villages in the western part of al-Hamra, and is the sole bakery in the entire east Hama countryside.
In al-Hamra alone, there used to be five bakeries. The owners of two are in regime detention, and the others were bombarded by the regime in an attempt to storm the Hama countryside [late last year], putting them completely out of service because the equipment was burned.
Industrial-scale bread production in the east Hama countryside. Photo courtesy of Abo Shadi Elhamwe.
Q: How did the people of these villages procure their bread before the opening of this bread oven? Where did the idea to set it up come from?
Before the bakery opened, people travelled 50km to buy bread from the Maarat [a-Numan] and Idlib areas [to the north]. The areas from the [east] Hama countryside to Idlib are under rebel control.
Opening this bread oven was not an idea but rather an urgent and pressing need, as a large number of displaced people sparked an increased need for bread. At the request of residents, the local councils requested the bakery’s opening from the [opposition] Free Hama Provincial Council.
In coordination with multiple supporting organizations [that funded the project], the council agreed to the project, brought in equipment, and set up the oven in a small village, thank God.
: Abo Shadi told Syria Direct that the organization funding the project did not wish to be identified by name, but is a regional union that works to empower the provincial council.]
Some equipment was bought into Syria, and the equipment that was not available was imported from Turkey [through Idlib province]. Bringing heavy equipment from far-off areas was the greatest difficulty that the council faced.
Q: How did residents respond to the project?
This was a momentous stride for the people of the eastern countryside as a whole and was met with positive feedback. It solved many problems, by easing the burden of carrying bread over such long distances from Idlib. It also increases the quantity and lowers the price of bread for the villages that the bakery now serves.
Q: Are you afraid the new oven could be bombed?
Of course, because the countryside is bombarded on a daily basis. I’m talking to you right now while under artillery bombardment.