In recent days, the Ministry of State for the Development of the Southern Region has held workshops in the governorates affected by the February 6, 2023 earthquake, with representatives from various institutions, government agencies, chambers of commerce, industry, and tourism, and operations rooms in those governorates in attendance. The workshops discussed the stages of implementing the “National Action Plan for Dealing with the Earthquake’s Repercussions: People First,” established by the Council of Ministers on February 25.
Also in attendance were governors, executive office members in the concerned governorates, and directors of public institutions and companies focused on supporting livelihood projects for the earthquake-affected communities. In contrast, there appears to have been a decline in discussions about permanent government housing projects and temporary housing projects for the victims, which seem to still be in the process of being implemented more than nine months after the disaster.
Additionally, issues of documenting real estate ownership in informal settlements are still stagnant, with practical difficulties in implementing the executive instructions of Decree No. 3 of 2023. The decree grants tax exemptions to earthquake victims, some related to their entirely or partially demolished properties. One of the main difficulties is that most affected properties are unlicensed and located in unzoned areas, making it difficult for their owners to prove ownership. There are complex conditions for these property owners to obtain loans or tax exemptions to rebuild or repair their properties.
This delay in resolving the real estate problems caused by the earthquake poses an obstacle to the new government approach to addressing the impacts of the disaster, particularly in supporting the livelihoods of the affected communities. Livelihoods are inseparable from property rights. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, livelihoods are sustainable if they can withstand shocks and difficulties and maintain capabilities and assets without depleting natural resources. Property rights, alongside work, are among the most commonly used assets to produce food for family consumption and to generate cash revenues that allow the family or individuals to meet other needs such as health and education.
Therefore, it seems that moving to the stage of supporting livelihood projects and seeking international financiers for them before completing the documentation of affected property ownership and before securing housing for the victims may be a misstep.
According to the definition of sustainable livelihoods, property rights are one of the most substantial resources available to people to increase and expand their assets beyond the available land and labour until they reach the full portfolio of assets necessary for sustainable livelihoods, including natural resources, social, human and financial capital, in addition to natural assets.
While the governors shared figures on various accomplishments made on the ground, some local officials discussed the challenges facing the implementation of the National Action Plan. The State Minister for Southern Region Development, Diala Barakat, repeated the same speech in all workshops, describing the current situation, executive programs, and work mechanisms to implement the items of the National Action Plan, and talked about the minor and significant needs to determine the implementation mechanisms according to specified timelines.
The Minister allocated a significant portion of her speech in all the workshops to what she described as expanding the base of livelihood projects, targeting families that have lost their source of income to help gradually restore everyday life to the earthquake-affected areas.
The first workshop was held in the Aleppo governorate on October 23, attended by Minister Barakat and Aleppo Governor Hussein Diab. The Governor stated that 115 engineering committees conducted engineering surveys on more than 126,000 buildings in the governorate, and 453 damaged buildings were demolished. He pointed out that the implementation rate of the project to build 120 residential units in Al-Masraneya suburb and 320 residential units in Al-Haidariya suburb had reached 55 percent.
A similar workshop was held in the Lattakia governorate on October 24, attended by Lattakia Governor Amer Hilal. The Minister explained that the governorate had closed its shelters, and the current phase is related to recovery, activating economic activities, returning life to normal, and providing safe housing solutions for earthquake victims. The Head of Lattakia Governorate Council also mentioned problems concerning determining the ownership of demolished and cracked buildings. Meanwhile, the Head of the Operations Room in the Lattakia governorate confirmed that 60 percent of the buildings had been inspected, with 12,700 out of 20,000 buildings inspected. According to the decisions of the structural safety committees, 6,399 buildings need reinforcement, and 4,991 buildings need restoration.
The Head of Lattakia City Council emphasized that the Decision 555 Committee is responsible for proving real estate ownership. The committee is responsible for issuing lists of earthquake victims, including representatives from relevant public authorities such as real estate, finance, communications, civil registries, water and electricity institutions, and appropriate administrative units, as well as several civil entities.
Meanwhile, the head of the Governorate Council pointed out that many properties in the governorate are commonly owned, with informal housing areas that are unlicensed and unzoned. The head of Jableh City Council emphasized the need to secure state-owned lands to build alternative housing for earthquake victims, noting that 120 such apartments are being built, while the number of damaged apartments stands at 241.
The last workshop was held on October 25 in Hama, attended by Minister Barakat, Hama Governor Mahmoud Zanboua, and Idlib Governor Thaer Salhab. Mr Zanboua stated that 640 houses were restored, and 397 livelihood projects targeting earthquake victims were launched. Meanwhile, Mr Salhab said that the earthquake damaged 66 houses, including 55 partially cracked houses, and the rest were on the verge of collapse, with their residents evacuated.
Participants in the workshop discussed providing support to the victims to restore their livelihoods, creating material income sources for them, rebuilding service centres, rehabilitating damaged infrastructure, focusing on the most affected and vulnerable groups, and finding solutions to some problems related to real estate ownership data in rural and informal areas. Such issues often hinder the completion of transactions associated with providing facilities to the victims and granting them loans to repair their homes and other facilities.