It will take years to clear up the rubble in the Middle East

THE old town of Mosul is a wasteland. So are many other cities and towns that have been mangled by the wars in Iraq and Syria. There is so much broken concrete and twisted metal in Aleppo, the Syrian city pounded by Russian and regime warplanes during the bloodiest battle of its civil war, that the World Bank reckons it will take at least six years to clear the wreckage.

In fact, the Herculean task of cleaning up the detritus of war has become one of the biggest obstacles in the region’s struggle to patch up its shattered cities. Part of the problem is that the debris contains unexploded bombs, heavy metals such as mercury and other sorts of toxic waste, all of which need to be dealt with gingerly. The other part is just that there is so much rubble.

Simply trucking the debris 10km from Mosul is expected to cost around $250m. With few funds available, much of the rubble is just being scooped up and dumped into seasonal waterways, increasing the risk of…

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