oung people clean up the streets near Al-Fayha garden in Suweida on October 31.

Two environmental campaigns are focusing on the necessary – but ultimately superficial – tasks of picking up rubbish and beautifying the Syrian landscape.

The Governorate of Damascus Countryside declared 2010 to be the “Year of the Environment”, later downgrading that title to the more narrowly-focused “Year of Cleaning”. With this programme set to expire at the year’s end, the Ministry of Environment on October 31 launched a separate but similar programme called the Syrian National Cleaning Campaign, which will be ongoing and countrywide.

Both projects aim to make Syria look cleaner, not to make significant changes to the environment or pollution in the country. Those involved with the programmes said that campaigns to clean up Syria are more realistic and successful endeavours than programmes which attempt to implement significant environmental improvements.

“The Governor of Damascus Countryside changed this label from ‘year of the environment’ to ‘year of cleaning’ as the former means treating all environmental problems,” Yousef al-Kerdi, an engineer and observer participating in both campaigns, said. “The label was found to be too wide.”

Throughout the year, participants in the campaign picked up litter on the roadsides and upgraded the entrances to towns in the Damascus countryside, he said.

“What was proposed in February 2010 was to improve the treatment of sewage and water reservoirs, for instance, and to make changes in the industrial area,” Kerdi added. “Nothing like that has been achieved.”

The new, national campaign began with a more targeted approach, he explained. Leading up to the programme’s launch, volunteers spent two months analysing and then ranking the clean-up needs in each governorate. Currently, cleaning campaigns have begun within high-need “hot spots”, with volunteers visiting them each Saturday to pick up scattered rubbish and waste.

In addition to cleaning up Syria, this campaign aims to increase environmental awareness, Director of Environmental Awareness and Training at the Ministry of Environment Nader Ghazi, said. By teaching citizens to value a litter-free environment, it will encourage people to participate in the clean-up of Syria, he explained.

Whether or not the government will step in to simultaneously invest in long-term upgrades to Syria’s environment remains to be seen. However, there are bright spots. Kerdi said that the government’s upcoming 11th Five-Year Plan will allocate SYP 22bn (USD 478m) to improving landfill management, for example.

The clean-up campaigns are not a replacement for these kinds of costly-but-necessary upgrades to Syria’s waste-processing infrastructure, Ghazi said.