Over two months after the February 06 earthquake, the town of Jandares still suffers the impacts of the damage. The town is located in the Afrin region of the Aleppo governorate which is under the control of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG).
The quake virtually destroyed Jandares. It killed around 800 residents, destroyed 278 buildings, and damaged 1,100 buildings. The owners of these destroyed and damaged homes still live across four main shelter centres near the town and in small camps inside Jandares.
Most original residents of Jandares are Kurds, and in 2012 the majority-Kurdish People’s Protection Units took control of the town. Then in 2018, Turkish-backed opposition factions seized Jandares in Operation Olive Branch, displacing many original residents. Meanwhile, many people forcibly displaced by regime forces from other parts of Syria formerly controlled by the opposition, namely Rural Damascus, Homs, and Hama, arrived and settled in Jandares. According to local council estimates, the town’s population in 2022 was around 115,000 people.
Immediately after the earthquake, the Aleppo branch of the Free Syrian Engineers’ Syndicate formed comprehensive survey committees (Earthquake Damage Assessment Committees) to conduct field surveys on the 1,100 affected buildings in Jandares. In mid-March, these committees completed their work. They classified the buildings into three categories according to their level of damage: slight, moderate and severe. There were 45 severely damaged buildings.
Afterwards, Jandares Local Council requested a central public safety committee, consisting of nine syndicate engineers, to inspect the severely damaged buildings and issue a final recommendation for either their removal or reinforcement. The committee decided to completely demolish most of these 45 buildings or demolish parts of them and reinforce the remaining sections.
It should be noted that the Engineers’ Syndicate signed a memorandum of understanding on February 19, 2023, with the non-governmental organisation Mercy Without Limits, which was founded in 2012 and licensed in Turkey. According to the memorandum, the organisation provides equipment, pays for building inspections, covers transportation costs and compensates the engineers.
The survey committees and the Central Safety Committee handed their results to the local council, which is now responsible for implementation. The local council has tasked its demolition and removal committee with issuing a final decision regarding the damaged buildings. Then, on April 06, the local council published a list of ten damaged buildings to destroy and gave their owners a three-day deadline to object. It is not yet clear what the legal mechanisms are in case any of the building owners object. Still, at the time of writing, the council has yet to receive any objections. Therefore, after the three-day deadline ends, the demolition and removal committee will knock down those buildings and remove their rubble.
In the next stage, the Central Safety Committee will identify moderately damaged buildings requiring reinforcement. It may then decide to reinforce or demolish some buildings, as some moderate-risk buildings have suffered further damage with the earthquake aftershocks.
Samir Bouidani, head of the Central Safety Committee in the Aleppo branch of the Free Syrian Engineers’ Syndicate, explained to The Syria Report some of the engineering standards used to determine the safety of local buildings. For example, the committee removed any building that showed a visible slant, even with no cracks. And any decision to reinforce a building depends on the cost not exceeding 50 percent of the cost of its concrete structure. Here, costs are the deciding factor.
According to Mr Bouidani, determining which reinforcement method to use is not the Central Safety Committee’s job, as each building requires its own specialised engineering study. Therefore, the Engineers’ Syndicate, in coordination with the local council and with the consent of the building owners, refer the matter to private engineering offices licensed. It is still unclear whether any governmental or non-governmental organisations will contribute or fund such reinforcement and restoration for buildings that require this work before being inhabited again.
On the other hand, individual restoration projects on slightly damaged houses have taken place in the town, albeit out of the owners’ pockets. Such work includes rebuilding walls using blocks and cement, plastering, repairing windows, doors, and external walls and repairing inner courtyards. This restoration work often does not include any metal or reinforced concrete for columns and beams. These projects pose risks, including masking the harmful effects of the earthquake on the building’s structural mass, which could mean dangers to these buildings in the future.
As for removing the debris, work is still unorganised as there is no legal mechanism to protect the rights of homeowners’ rubble. NGOs are still working to remove debris from Jandares in cooperation with the local council and the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets. On April 04, the Syrian NGO Takaful Al-Sham, registered in Turkey since 2013, launched the Balsam Project to remove debris and rehabilitate several markets and roads within Jandares, according to the “cash for work” principle. However, like other projects launched by non-governmental organisations, Balsam did not clarify that the debris is the last evidence of the owners’ ownership of their collapsed homes or the fate of the original properties and possessions upon which they were built.