People whose homes were damaged nine months ago in the devastating February 6 earthquake are still struggling to secure other housing amidst delays in implementing government housing projects. The earthquake caused the complete collapse of 53 buildings in the city of Aleppo, along with cracks and partial collapses in hundreds of other buildings. Over the past months, the governorate of Aleppo has worked on demolishing hundreds of buildings at risk of collapse.
The government designated two sites for permanent housing projects for those affected by the February 6 earthquake in Aleppo: one in the Haydariyah district and the other in the Masaraniya suburb east of the city. Work is still ongoing on these projects, and it does not seem that they will be completed soon.
The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, aligned with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have undertaken to install about 450 prefabricated temporary homes for the earthquake victims in Jabrin, Aleppo. However, it appears that the local pro-Iranian militias are only distributing these homes to the families of their members.
Umm Ibrahim, an elderly woman, lives in an apartment in a five-storey building in the Sulaimaniyah neighbourhood in central Aleppo. During the February 6 earthquake, the building did not collapse but suffered cracks. Umm Ibrahim and her neighbours immediately left the building and did not return, fearing it could collapse due to aftershocks.
Fifteen days later, the Construction Safety Committee affiliated with Aleppo’s Municipality inspected the building where Um Ibrahim lived and found it at high risk of collapse. They decided to demolish it. The committee allowed the building’s residents to remove their belongings within 24 hours before closing and demolishing it. Umm Ibrahim was unable to remove most of her apartment’s furniture due to her advanced age and inability to afford a work crew to remove the furniture. The Aleppo Municipality did not help Umm Ibrahim or any of the affected residents in the city to remove their belongings from the buildings classified as high risk.
Indeed, work teams from Aleppo Municipality demolished Umm Ibrahim’s building after 24 hours. The municipality did not provide Umm Ibrahim or any former building residents with any alternative housing, nor did it offer them a place in the shelters opened for people impacted by the quake. Umm Ibrahim, unable to afford to rent a house, chose to move to her relatives’ home.
At the beginning of October, news spread in Aleppo that the city council had begun moving people to temporary and alternative housing. Following this news, Umm Ibrahim visited the Aleppo City Council office to inquire if she was included. She did not receive an answer to her question, with staff reportedly telling her: “We don’t know anything.”
Saeed, who lived with his family in Aleppo’s Bustan Al-Basha neighbourhood, had to leave their home in 2015 after a shell fell on it, causing significant damage. They moved to an incomplete and unfinished house owned by Saeed in the same neighbourhood. The family stayed in the new house until the February 6 quake, when the building cracked and was deemed dangerous and at risk of collapse by the Construction Safety Committee. Without any alternatives, Saeed, his family, and the other residents agreed to bribe the committee to issue a report stating the building was repairable. Each apartment owner in the building paid SYP 1.5 million to the committee, and the final report noted that the building was not dangerous and could be repaired.
In contrast, Mohammad, a trader with two shops in Aleppo’s old market, tells a different story about the official response to the earthquake disaster. He says that the market restoration project had started before the earthquake. However, the plan put forth by the Syria Trust for Development, an NGO headed by Syrian First Lady Asma Al-Assad, remained unchanged. The Trust did not consider the people who lost their homes in the old market and continued to work on restoring the commercial shops. Mohammad explains that restoring the market is a priority because it serves the interests of traders close to the regime while ordinary residents’ properties are neglected. The authorities are encouraging traders and industrialists to return.
Mohammad adds that Aleppo’s industrialists and traders are concentrated in the city’s western neighbourhoods, isolating themselves from the rest of the population in the eastern neighbourhoods. Their areas were not subjected to significant destruction during war or the earthquake. He says the Syrian authorities expect these traders and industrialists to provide alternative housing for those affected by the earthquake. However, many of them have not agreed to these plans, fearing their donations will end up in the pockets of officials, and no serious housing project for the affected will materialise.
Salma, a woman in her forties working in the public sector, lived with her husband and four children in the Bustan Al-Basha neighbourhood. Their home collapsed in the February 6 earthquake shortly after they had fled from it. Salma says she was fortunate, as some of their neighbours perished. She mentions that after spending days on the street, they went to one of the shelters in Aleppo but couldn’t bear to stay there more than one night due to overcrowding, poor services and lack of cleanliness. Like other affected people from Aleppo, the family then moved to the city of Homs and lived in an unfinished home on the city’s outskirts. This new house was in a makeshift area with no paved streets and an incomplete sewage system.
Salma states that living in an unfinished house was better for them than staying in the shelter. Initially, they received help from sympathetic locals in Homs, including blankets, mattresses, money and food. However, this assistance gradually decreased until it entirely stopped. The family had registered themselves on the list of those affected by the quake. However, they only received aid from official entities in the first few months after the earthquake.
The family lives in the unfinished house in Homs, along with many other displaced families from Aleppo. They have no news about the possibility of obtaining any future housing or financial compensation. Salma says she doesn’t know how the family will get through this winter in a house without windows or doors.