Seven months after the devastating February 2023 earthquake that struck southern Turkey and northwestern Syria, the response of Syria’s National Fund to support those affected by the earthquake, remains modest at best within Lattakia governorate, and is hardly noticeable in Aleppo.
The fund was established by Legislative Decree No. 7 of 2023 to provide financial support to people affected by the quake. On August 22, the state-run Al-Baath newspaper reported on a panel discussion by the fund’s director, Fares Kallas, in which he stated that the fund is part of the “National Action Plan for Dealing with Earthquake Aftermath – People First,” to respond to the quake aftermath.
The fund’s operational duration is three years, during which time management must distribute incoming revenues to eligible quake victims. Mr Kallas confirmed that the fund possesses complete data on those affected by the disaster. He added that the fund has faced challenges with private property laws and called for greater flexibility in these laws, as well as amendments when public interest demands it in exceptional circumstances such as earthquakes. The Al-Baath article did not clarify what Mr Kallas meant by “challenges with private property laws”.
Hussein Makhlouf, Syria’s Minister of Local Administration and Environment, confirmed at an August 15 press conference that the earthquake victims fund would also provide support to the tune of SYP 156.5 billion to help repair damaged homes. However, it was unclear whether this is the total amount available in the fund or if it is the estimated total cost required by the fund for the repairs. Mr Kallas confirmed during the same conference that the fund had not yet received any money from other Arab countries or from international organisations.
People impacted by the earthquake should register at citizen service centres before the end of 2023, the deadline set by the fund, Lattakia governor Amer Hilal told the semi-state-run daily Al-Watan on August 30. Three centres have been set up to serve citizens in the governorates of Aleppo, Lattakia and Hama, each of which includes an employee from the General Housing Establishment and from the Real Estate Bank.
The first phase of the support programme provided by the fund includes compensation for owners of buildings that were destroyed during the February 6 earthquake or the February 20 aftershock. Those buildings fall into two categories:
First: Demolished properties located within licensed buildings in a zoned area. The earthquake response fund is to compensate owners with SYP 160 million for reconstruction. Mr Makhlouf stated that the licensed homes in this category include “Arab houses” (traditional one-storey homes), apartments in two-storey residential buildings, and licensed commercial premises. These constitute 61 percent of the earthquake-affected properties. Mr Makhlouf added that the fund aims to support owners in this category with more than SYP 134.5 billion in total funds.
Owners of the demolished homes from this category (or any person authorised to act on behalf of a group of owners of a single ruined building) must submit a registration request at their citizen service centre in order to get support from the fund. As of August 28, only 55 people submitted such requests to the citizen service centre in Lattakia, that centre’s director, Ali Hassan, told Al-Watan. Mr Hassan added that no documents, other than a personal ID, are required from people in this category, provided their name appears on the lists of drawn by the committee set up under Decision No. 555, which is the body responsible for determining which victims are covered in the first phase of the fund’s programme. These lists are signed off by the governors of the relevant governorates.
After that, the citizen service centre is responsible for obtaining the remaining documents. According to Mr Makhlouf, the relevant governorate’s operations room extracts the papers needed for the earthquake-damaged licensed properties within 48 hours. The request is then referred to the city council and the Engineers’ Syndicate, which gives its initial approval for the reconstruction permit and authenticates the engineering plans and final reconstruction permit. The syndicate then submits the permit electronically to the earthquake response fund’s board, after which the fund provides its first SYP 80 million instalment of support money. The applicant then enters into a certified contracting agreement with the Contractors’ Syndicate. This contract is electronically referred to the fund’s board, after which the second SYP 80 million instalment is transferred.
Second: Unlicensed properties located in zoned and unzoned areas. Owners may apply for housing within the government housing programmes for earthquake victims built by the General Housing Establishment. They may also benefit from SYP 40 million in financial support paid by the fund directly to the GHE, and also have the option to obtain a loan from the Real Estate Bank under Decree No. 3 of 2023, equivalent to the remaining amount of the housing unit’s value. Decree No. 3 grants earthquake victims certain tax exemptions, some of which are related to their fully or partially demolished properties.
People in this second category should submit a letter to their citizen service centre saying they wish to obtain a residential unit from the GHE, Minister of Public Works and Housing, Suhail AbdulLatif explained at an August 15 press conference. Templates for these letters are available. The centre then arranges all the necessary documents through various automated states, AbdulLatif added.
The minister’s statements, notably, contradict an Al-Watan article from August 30 stating that people in the second category must obtain an “Administrative Unit Form” approved in their governorate in order to prove their property ownership. They must submit this form to their citizen services centre accompanied by a “barani” (informal) sales contract, a property sheet reference, a court ruling or a deed transfer from the original landowner to the unlicensed property owner certified by a notary. Also, utility bills for electricity, telephone, or water for the demolished property should be attached.
In any case, once the file is ready, it is automatically sent to the fund’s management, which reviews the applicant’s data. Within three days, they transfer the SYP 40 million to the GHE on behalf of the applicant, who is then notified of the transfer and receives a subscription document. They may then choose their desired apartment by reviewing all the details on the GHE’s website. Subsequently, the victim has the right to apply at their citizen services centre for a loan under Decree No. 3. The loan amount is also transferred to the GHE’s account.
AbdulLatif pointed out that the cost of each apartment can be as much as SYP 200 million, meaning the applicant benefits only from the SYP 40 million provided by the fund, with the remaining SYP 160 million as a loan to be paid in instalments over five years to the GHE.