National Action Plan and Official Earthquake Response in Regime-Held Territory
Updated on May 29, 2023: We corrected the date of the announcement of the government plan to February 25, from April 25 in the original version.
On February 25, the Syrian government announced the so-called “National Action Plan for Dealing with Earthquake Aftermath – People First,” which addresses the impacts of the February 06 earthquake and restores buildings to their pre-earthquake condition.
According to the announcement, the government started implementing this plan immediately after the quake and will complete it in 2025. The Higher Relief Committee, chaired by the Minister of Local Administration and including ministries and governmental and non-governmental bodies, leads the plan and oversees its execution.
The plan addresses the earthquake’s aftermath and sets objectives and outcomes that the government must achieve. It also establishes performance and impact indicators as well as a timeline. However, though the plan is filled with promises, it lacks efficient implementation mechanisms, funding monitoring, and clear funding sources.
The most significant issue in the plan is its conflation of the effects of war and the earthquake. The plan’s approach to these impacts is limited to formally zoned areas. It assumes that the solution in non-zoned areas is simply re-zoning by demolition and reconstruction. The plan does not mention preserving rights or dealing with absent property owners.
The plan is divided into four stages: the first stage is emergency response, aimed at meeting basic humanitarian needs immediately after the disaster. This includes technical inspections of damaged buildings and paying rent compensation for those wishing to rent homes temporarily. The first stage is presumed to have ended, but it remains to be seen if the government actually met its objectives.
The plan’s second stage is for recovery and rehabilitation, which involves assisting affected communities in returning to their everyday lives. Syria is currently presumed to be in this phase, which includes removing debris from buildings destroyed during the earthquake, with a completion date by December 2023. It is unclear how buildings destroyed by the quake will be distinguished from those damaged during the war, given an official inclination to blur the two to increase the count of earthquake-damaged buildings. This second stage also includes facilitating the process of obtaining legal documentation for those affected by the quake, ensuring their legal rights and statuses are settled. It also involves assistance for owners of private properties in zoned areas that were affected to rebuild collapsed or at risk of collapsing buildings and repair cracked ones.
Addressing quake damages in informal settlements has been deferred to the third stage of the action plan, which has not yet begun. This stage involves reconstructing and zoning informal settlements and improving the urban environment to make it better than before the earthquake and war. This means rebuilding the earthquake-damaged informal settlements by creating alternate zoned areas under the purview of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing and the Ministry of Local Administration.
The fourth stage provides an enabling environment to systematically deal with the earthquake’s aftermath so that the government bases its decisions on accurate data.
Ambiguities aside, authorities in Damascus continue to fall short in dealing with the effects of the earthquake. The legislative response to the earthquake has only addressed the destruction of real estate properties from a financial perspective. This includes Legislative Decree No. 7 of 2023, which establishes the National Fund to support those affected by the earthquake, aiming to provide financial assistance and help them overcome physical, material or moral damage. While waiting for its executive instructions to be issued, it remains unclear whether Decree No. 7 will provide any compensation for damages to homes and real estate properties.
Similarly, Legislative Decree No. 3 of 2023 granted those affected by the earthquake certain tax exemptions, some of which relate to their wholly or partially demolished properties. The decree enabled them to access loans to repair their damaged properties. Neither Decree No. 3 of 2023 nor its executive instructions mentioned financial compensation for repairing affected properties, rent allowances for those who lost their homes or any commitment to provide alternative housing, even if not free of charge. For someone to benefit from the tax exemptions included in Decree No. 3, a specialised committee must first identify those affected by the earthquake in each afflicted governorate. The affected individuals must submit their official documents to the committee, a police report confirming damage to their properties, and a record from the public safety committee identifying the nature of the damage. According to these conditions, owners of unlicensed buildings not formally registered in the Land Registry may not receive compensation or tax exemption.
Notably, about three months after the earthquake, the General Directorate of Cadastral Affairs has yet to issue instructions or decisions to address the widespread destruction of real estate properties in government-controlled areas. The Syrian legislative system does not contain any law related to real estate damaged by natural disasters. Previous laws addressing real estate issues have needed a more serious approach to housing, land, and property rights for those affected by natural disasters or wars. In all cases, these laws distinguished between homes built with permits and those without and between informal settlements and zoned areas.