Depending on your perspective, images captured in the besieged Syrian town of Douma by Reuters photographer Bassam Khabieh are either hellscapes of a failed society, or stunning examples of human energy ingenuity. Or maybe both.
Diesel and gasoline are hard to get in Douma, in a part of eastern Damascus held by anti-government forces. So 3½ years ago, “facing a shortage of fuel to run generators and machinery due to the siege, former construction worker Abu Kassem set up a makeshift refinery to extract fuel from plastic waste,” Khabieh writes.
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“Using methods learned from instructional videos posted on the Internet, the family takes plastic bottles, rubble from damaged buildings, plastic from cooking utensils, water and even sewage pipes to produce liquid and gas fuels. The liquid is refined into gasoline, diesel, and benzene fuels, and the gases obtained are sold for domestic and commercial use in place of natural gas. The fuels are sold to customers, including bakeries, farmers who need fuel to power water pumps, and consumers for use in cars and motorcycles.”
The images are indelible, as are the health impacts for the people involved in the venture.
“The workshop operates 15 hours a day, six days a week, and workers’ only protection against the effects of inhaling the polluted air caused by burning plastic is advice from some to drink two cups of milk a day to try to offset the effects,” Khabieh reports. “The efficacy of the treatment is uncertain.”
But the horrific setting still generate a sense of mission for the people who work there. “Working here is very tiring, but we feel that we are providing a great service to people,” said employee Abu Ahmed. “I have been working here for a short time and have begun to adapt to the atmosphere here.”