April 8, 2014
Over the course of Syria’s three-year civil war, various grassroots organizations have emerged to fill the local governance vacuums in rebel-held territories. Perhaps the most visible such bodies are the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), which since the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011 have organized and documented protest activity and civil disobedience throughout Syria.
Similarly important but less widely discussed have been Local Councils, which have taken the lead in providing essential services—from paving roads to collecting trash—for citizens of opposition-held areas. Some Local Councils, particularly those in Aleppo and Idlib, have in recent months developed new elements known as Civil Defense Units (CDUs), which focus on providing emergency rescue and treatment for victims of shelling and other violence.
“CDUs were formed in response to cases where people were dying underneath rubble because they didn’t receive any help,” says Hussein Ibn al-Khitab, 28, a citizen journalist and photographer based in Aleppo. He tells Syria Direct’s Osama Abu Zeid that Aleppo’s CDUs are limited in their service provision by shortages in “heavy, specialized equipment” needed to rescue people from rubble, and by the difficulty in moving between different neighborhoods in Syria’s deadliest city.
Q: What are the most important services provided by CDUs?
The most prominent services CDUs provide are rapid response/first aid for injured people and safe transportation to the nearest field medical center. They also enter areas where fires have started, and rescue citizens who are trapped or injured, as well as pulling out those who have died. They pull people out from under rubble.
Aleppo activists last week released a promotional video for the city’s Civil Defense Units. Photo courtesy of the Aleppo Media Center.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the CDUs in providing services?
The biggest challenge CDUs face is in rescuing citizens from under rubble—it takes a long time to do this because the CDUs don’t have heavy, specialized machinery, and this can lead to people dying before they are rescued. Even when there is one appropriate piece of equipment, it’s difficult to use it everywhere that it’s needed because of all the shelling and the areas being targeted.
Q: What was the impetus behind the CDUs’ formation?
In short, the CDUs were formed in response to cases where people were dying underneath rubble because they didn’t receive any help. This requires a specialized team to relieve the pressure on nurses in transporting and treating the wounded, so there was a need for civil defense.
Q: What is the difference between CDUs and LCCs, and what is the relationship between them?
LCCs have their own particular work, and CDUs have theirs. LCC work can take on various different forms, but CDUs are specifically concerned with states of emergency and social services. To put it simply, LCCs can’t provide services such as electricity, extinguishing fires, etc.
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