The city of Hama in central Syria is known for its informally built districts. This is due to decades of stalemate in the city’s urban planning policies and government decrees that stopped the subdivision of lands in 1975 and delayed expansion of the city’s zoning plans.
In 1982, regime forces destroyed several neighbourhoods in the city centre, including Al-Kilaniyeh, Al-Zankbaqi and between Al-Hayrin, Al-Sharqiyeh and Al-Baroudiyeh, in order to suppress an armed uprising at the time. After the destruction, the state seized the lands those neighbourhoods were built on and prevented remaining residents from returning to rebuild their homes. This reduced the available built-up areas within the city of Hama.
The reduced land area, combined with population growth, raised the prices of real estate and residential apartments in Hama. Residents turned to alternative options, such as building informal housing on the outskirts of the city, which they called the “masha’at”.
These informal housing areas have grown over the past four decades, transforming into large, underserved residential communities. With the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011, some of these communities became centres of anti-government protests, as well as safe zones for Syrians who were wanted by the security forces. This is due to the overlapping buildings, lack of organisation, and fear on the part of security personnel of entering them because of their population density and their geographic connection to the pro-revolution countryside.
Hama used to have many informal neighbourhoods, which met different fates over the course of the war:
In 2012, after the regime took full control of Hama, it demolished the informal Al-Arbaeen and Wadi Al-Joz areas, as they held unlicensed buildings and were located outside the city zoning plans. However, human rights sources told The Syria Report that there were political and security motives behind the demolitions, as these areas were incubators for the Syrian uprising.
The informal Al-Arbaeen area was north of the official Al-Arbaeen neighbourhood and extended for three kilometres along the northern entrance of Hama. It was one of the largest informal housing areas in the city, home to about 40,000 residents who lived in one-storey houses with few utilities. Houses in the area were built on ground that was technically privately owned agricultural land that was not included within the city’s zoning plan. The same situation applied to the Wadi al-Joz informal area located along the Aleppo highway north of the city, opposite the Al-Dhaheriyeh residential neighbourhood.
In September 2018, the Hama governorate decided to demolish the entire Al-Naqarneh neighbourhood south of the city, on the pretext that the homes there were built without regard for construction codes. The week-long demolition included both informal housing and, unusually, a formally built residential area that had been established by housing cooperatives. The informally built part of Al-Naqarneh was built on farmland expropriated in 1983 for the state’s benefit. In 2008, the Hama City Council issued zoning plans for the expropriated land in Al-Naqarneh, granting construction licences to housing cooperatives to build 1,724 housing units within an area of 104 hectares.
In contrast to other informal housing areas in Hama, the two informal districts of Haret Al-Tabb and Al-Tiyyar have been preserved. Most residents in these two districts are loyal to the regime and are home to dozens of members of pro-regime militias. Both the governorate and municipality of Hama have ignored decrees to demolish the two districts and construct highways through them. Indeed, both Haret Al-Tabb and Al-Tiyyar have grown in recent years.