Earthquake-Related Damage in Rural Aleppo Governorate
The recent earthquake caused extensive damage to parts of the Aleppo governorate under the control of various armed opposition, including Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).
This article will delve into the impacts of the earthquake on Souran, Al-Atareb and Afrin and the reasons behind the damages in the cities.
Souran, located north of the city of Aleppo, has remained under opposition control since 2012, though it did not witness heavy regime bombardment or fighting relative to other parts of the country. The earthquake killed 33 people in Souran after they were trapped under the rubble of their homes. More than half of them were displaced people from rural parts of the Idlib governorate, while the rest were originally from the city.
According to an official from the Souran Local Council, which is affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian Interim Government, the earthquake destroyed 80 buildings, including some single-storey homes that were built more than 40 years ago. However, most buildings that fully collapsed were constructed within the past decade and had multiple storeys. Some 110 buildings in Souran are at risk of collapse from the earthquake and require demolition, while 180 buildings were partially damaged and need restoration work. In addition, four mosques, two main water cisterns, and six schools, including a Quran school, were badly damaged.
Most of the buildings that were damaged, whether fully or partially, were constructed without licences, according to the local council official. The council had become unable to control the rapid trend of informal construction.
The Souran Local Council did not open any shelter centres after the earthquake, but did receive some aid, including tents, from NGOs operating in opposition territory. The council distributed these tents to those in need, who set them up in front of their damaged homes. The city came to resemble an encampment.
The area’s brittle soil and the lack of a rocker layer near the surface are one of the main reasons why these homes collapsed. Souran is in an arid region; its soil is around 20 metres thick. The most suitable houses for such an environment are one-storey homes with adequately studied and reinforced concrete foundations. In practice, however, such homes are more expensive to build, which many residents and displaced people in the area cannot afford, especially after years of war and the country’s acute economic crisis.
The city of Afrin is located in the northwestern part of Aleppo governorate and is the administrative centre of its region. The entire area had been controlled by the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from 2012 until 2018 before Turkish-backed opposition forces seized the area during Operation Olive Branch. The fighting displaced a large portion of the area’s original Kurdish residents. Afrin Local Council is currently responsible for the city administratively and services and is affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian Interim Government.
Contrary to what happened in the rural town of Jandares in Afrin, which saw the most severe earthquake damage in Syria’s opposition-held areas, only four residential buildings fully collapsed in Afrin city. As a result, 16 people were killed. In addition, 204 buildings saw extensive damage that made them uninhabitable and at risk of collapse. Another 3,458 buildings were partially damaged and needed reinforcement and restoration work, according to a local council official who spoke with The Syria Report.
Most of the damage in Afrin city was concentrated along Sharaa Al-Faylat, a relatively newly constructed area that saw unlicensed construction during the period of YPG control. After 2018, contractors with close ties to opposition factions worked to expand the unlicensed construction in this area of the city, including vertical expansion by building additional storeys to existing buildings.
The earthquake displaced 3,500 families to 40 shelter centres and tented encampments within the city and its outskirts, which the local council had set up. Some shelter centres and camps can accommodate 300 families, while others are only big enough for 30-40 families. Other families set up camps near their houses.
Al-Atareb is among the largest cities in the rural western Aleppo governorate and is located near the administrative border with Idlib. The city is controlled by the HTS-affiliated Syrian Salvation Government (SSG).
Regime forces have waged repeated aerial and artillery bombardment campaigns on Al-Atareb since 2013. The most infamous massacre there was carried out by Russian forces, which fired highly destructive missiles on the city’s centre, including its souk, in late 2017. Over 100 civilians were killed in the attack, and dozens of residential and commercial buildings were destroyed. Many other buildings that remained intact were nevertheless cracked. Regime forces also hit the city hard during its final military campaign in the area in 2019-2020.
In addition to the direct damage to urbanisation and infrastructure, the bombing also caused indirect damage, represented by the disturbance of the soil and the foundations of buildings, which helps to explain the severe impact of the earthquake on the city. During the quake, 200 buildings fully collapsed, including single-storey houses and multi-storey apartment blocks. Another 300 buildings partially collapsed. The damage killed around 250 people and injured 500.
Hundreds of impacted families headed to nearby shelter centres set up by the SSG, while others left the city and went to camps located further north along the border with Turkey (most of the latter were previously displaced families not originally from Al-Atareb). Most city residents set up tents near their partially and fully damaged homes, as well as in public squares and streets. Non-governmental, local initiatives played the most significant role in distributing aid to those impacted by the quake, according to The Syria Report’s correspondent in the area.