Syria is a country located in the intercontinental region of the Middle East, an area that is known, among other things, for its significant reserves of oil and hydrocarbons in its subsoil. However, Syria is not one of the largest producers in the area. It produces only the 0.5% of the al worldwide oil extraction (data from 2010, before the Syrian War, which interrupted the normal development of the sector). Even so, the oil industry is one of the most important sectors of the Syrian economy, accounting for 25% of the state´s revenue.
However, these natural resources have not been exploited since the beginning. The majority of Syrian oil and gas wells, located in the desert-like eastern region of the country, were discovered in the second half of the 1950’s meanwhile Shukri al-Quwatli was president. Shortly after, the wells were expropriated and nationalized during the United Arab Republic of Gamal Abdel Nasser. However the management of the development of its exploitation and therefore its impact on the territory, which is the subject of this article, was carried out by the governments of the Baath Party since 1963.
The discovery of these oil fields was a new focus of attraction since the 50s. Because of this, more and more workers decided to move to the, until then uninhabited and desert east of the country, in search of the employment that offered the incipient petroleum industry. This fact did not happen suddenly. The population displacement was gradual at the same time that the industry developed and the living conditions improved in the area. In this way, the unequal demographic density between east and west, which has characterized the Syrian demography since always, has been balanced bit by bit. This is shown by comparing the population growth of the whole country between 1981 and 2011, which was around 236%, with the growth in the governorates of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor (where the majority of wells are located) that reached 270% and 300% in the same period.
The benefits of this balance of demographic density for the whole country could be offset by the concentration of population from a regional point of view. The most part of the new habitants of the governorates of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor settled on the Euphrates Valley, an oasis in the middle of the desert where the majority of cities and villages were located before the discovery of gas and oil wells.
The exploitation of the new wells brought with it the need to build a large number of infrastructures (oil pipelines, gas pipelines, thermal power plants, high voltage lines, roads to access to the wells,…), and not only infrastructures that served for the industry, also those that would serve the new inhabitants of the area attracted by the new economic development of the region. The result of this was a significant increase in the country’s properties and the improvement of the internal and external transport network (especially with Iraq, its east neighbor).
The quick growth of villages, which barely had a population at the beginning, was managed by the Baath Party governments with several shallow urban policies. The result of this was the predominance of low density, homogeneous neighborhoods with grid or linear morphology (except in Raqqa, which is the only locality that could be considered a city before the discovery of the oil fields in the 50s).
The clearest example of the result of this type of policy is the border city of Resala, which although it is located in Iraq, had an organized growth in grid like a lot of the villages of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor since the 60s.
The arrival of new residents and the concentration of population around the Euphrates River, in a traditionally rural area with a complex social reality, brought with it a series of conflicts derived from the clash between cultures and sensitivity. To the fact that Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Turkomans with different religious conditions happened to live together, we must add the strong influence of a large number of tribes, who in times were rivals between each other, in the area.
Following the same line as the previous paragraph, we must mention that, in spite of being a complex task, a lot of work is still to be done by the Syrian authorities to connect and establish an effective control over the desert regions containing the wells. The need keeps growing as it is terrain suitable for the guerrilla and is a constant target to “hit and run” attacks that keep hindering the development of a vital economy sector for Syria.
- STEEL & SILK: MEN AND WOMAN WHO SHAPED SYRIA 1900-2000 (Sami M. Moubayed)
- EARLY URBANISM ON THE SYRIAN EUPHRATES (Lisa Cooper)
- THE MINERAL INDUSTRY OF SYRIA (Mowafa Taib)
- FACTBOX: SYRIA´S ENERGY SECTOR (Daniel Fineren)
- OIL IN SYRIA BETWEEN TERRORISM AND DICTATORSHIP (Hussein Almohamad & Andreas Dittmann)
- SYRIA´S ECONOMY. PICKING UP THE PIECES (David Butter)
- SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC: 2009 ARTICLE IV CONSULTATION (International Monetary Fund)
- TRIBALISMO EN EL CONFLICTO EN SIRIA: EL CONTRATO TRIBAL (Alfredo Campos)
- LAS MILICIAS DEL DESIERTO Y SU OFENSIVA (Danigc)
- Google Earth
Íñigo Uraga Palacio
E.T.S.I. Caminos Canales y Puertos
UNIVERSIDAD POLITÉCNICA DE MADRID