Studies have begun to build alternative housing for residents whose properties were damaged or confiscated in Wadi Barada, a river valley in the Zabadani area, northwest of the capital, possibly to resettle people from the nearby towns of Ain Al-Fijeh and Bassimeh, who are still barred from returning to their homes.
Wadi Barada is home to 14 towns and villages, the most important of which are Ayn Al-Fijeh, Bassimeh and Deir Muqaran. Ayn Al-Fijeh sits some 15 kilometres northwest of Damascus, and its spring serves as the capital city’s main source of drinking water. The spring facility was heavily damaged by aerial bombardment, causing a major drinking water shortage in Damascus for two weeks in January 2017. After regime forces retook control of the area through a reconciliation agreement, they evacuated all residents from Ayn Al-Fijeh and Bassimeh, levelling entire homes and residential neighbourhoods to establish a new facility.
Last month, the Damascus Countryside Governorate signed a SYP 450 million contract with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing’s General Company for Engineering Studies and Consulting to carry out preliminary studies for detailed zoning and executive plans for constructing the “Wadi Barada Suburb.” The planned suburb is set to be built on a site two kilometres east of Ayn Al-Fijeh.
AbdulRazzaq Dhmeiriyeh, Director of Decision-Support and Regional Planning for the Damascus Countryside Governorate, confirmed in a press statement in August that the planned suburb will serve as alternative housing for Syrians whose homes in Wadi Barada were damaged. Their lands and other properties would not be repossessed or otherwise threatened, he said.
Contrary to Dhmeiriyeh’s statements, however, the suburb will provide housing for owners of properties that were expropriated under Law No. 1 of 2018 to establish a protected zone around the Fijeh spring. Residents whose homes were destroyed by battles in the area will also be provided housing. The contract indicates a period of one year to complete the plans.
The suburb is set to take up 50 hectares of land and will include 900 homes for those whose properties were damaged and who wish to obtain alternative housing. Those who do not want alternative housing can obtain monetary compensation in accordance with the current system of expropriation laws. Implementing the housing project will fall on the shoulders of the Ministry of Water Resources.
Meanwhile, Law No. 1 of 2018 stipulates the construction of two protected zones, classified as primary and secondary, around the Fijeh spring, and the two water tunnels branching out from the spring to Damascus. According to the law, the primary zone consists of land surrounding the water source, allowing access for maintenance and to prevent pollution. The secondary zone is the land surrounding the land immediately adjacent to the water source, where certain activities are forbidden to prevent pollution or depletion of the water.
The law also determined the primary zone to include land within 10 metres on each side of the water tunnel, with the secondary zone to be within 20 metres on either side.
Article 3 of Law No. 1 of 2018 allowed expropriation of land within the primary zone, with compensation granted according to the real value of ownership. Article 5 prohibits any construction work within that zone.
The legislation resulted in expropriation of a new area of 165 hectares, compared to an old area of just seven hectares, within the primary zone. Some 45 hectares of the town of Ayn Al-Fijeh have been appropriated for the new primary zone, with all buildings that were in the way removed. Article 7 of the 2018 law amended the zoning plans for Ayn Al-Fijeh and Deir Muqaran, removing residential zones located within the new primary zone.
Residents of villages located within the secondary zone, meanwhile, were allowed only to repair and restore their existing homes. Syrian authorities have also allowed small numbers of Deir Muqaran residents to return to existing homes in the secondary zone.