Syria's markets benefit from UNDP

Aug 16, 2010

Throughout the Middle East, souqs, or markets, have  historically been the centre of a city’s culture and livelihood. Centuries of use, however, have taken their toll on many of these traditional marketplaces in the region, from crumbling walls and falling ceilings to fewer sellers and goods.

Until recently, this fate was shared by the souks of Deir Ezzor, a city that sits on the banks of the Euphrates River in north-eastern Syria. With almost 250,000 residents, the city and surrounding areas suffer from the highest incidence of poverty in the country.

By 2009, the souqs, which had previously been a destination for daily household purchases and provided income for a wide variety of merchants, were opening for just several hours each day to sell construction materials to buyers from surrounding villages. Severe dilapidation had caused buyers to frequent the souqs less and less, and business in the formerly vibrant marketplace had slowed to a trickle.

By the time UNDP became involved in a poverty-reduction programme focusing on Syria’s north-east region, the souk’s former glory had all but faded. UNDP laid out its vision for reviving these souqs and restoring the diverse economic activity that had once contributed to the livelihoods of so many Deir Ezzor residents. The UNDP-administered programme seeks to increase economic activity in the region while at the same time preserving its rich cultural heritage and promote tourism.

During a one-year pilot programme, UNDP and its project partners – including UNESCO – improved water and sewage systems in the city’s souks, upgraded their electrical and telephone networks and carried out structural improvements to walls and ceilings. More than 65 storefronts were also renovated, and a much-needed facelift was given to the city’s famed Ottoman gate.

Today, brand new stores sell a wide variety of goods, ranging from clothing, exotic furs and spices, to leather goods and tools for farmers and carpenters. The souks now stay open for nine hours instead of three and they are thronged with new visitors, including tourists, who are drawn to the markets’ beautiful new wooden doors and wide array of handicrafts.

Under the pilot programme, more than 20 vendors received training on marketing and customer service, and store revenues are rising. Over the next year and a half, the Government will expand the pilot programme to an additional 300 stores and provide additional training for another 50 shop owners.

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