Since the earthquake on February 06, some owners of damaged properties in Lattakia still do not know what could happen to their homes or whether they will receive state compensation. Meanwhile, there has been a lack of meaningful solutions at the government and local levels.
If people affected by the earthquake do not have relatives or acquaintances of influential officials or cannot pay bribes to officials in municipalities and public safety committees, owners of damaged properties are afraid to ask about their rights. This is due to the security-focused nature of the Syrian state, which handles many day-to-day issues that impact people’s lives with secrecy. Such secrecy extends to data, statistics, zoning plans and detailed government plans. In addition, the fact that many people from the coastal region are affiliated with the security and military apparatuses means that they are used to carrying out orders, and public unaccountability has become the norm.
Speaking with The Syria Report, one resident impacted by the quake described the situation in the public hallways and offices of the Lattakia governorate as a “black hole”. There, information is not transparent, and people do not receive clear answers to questions about their rights. Notably, specific topics are considered taboo and are prohibited. Nobody knows the exact reasons for these informational red lines, who set them, or whether they are simply baseless rumours. Without clear answers or information, most residents conduct their affairs based on hearsay, which eventually snowballs and can include elements of conspiracy theories.
For example, at one point, discussion of reinforcement permits became banned. In response, residents exchanged rumours about the possibility of the state providing partial compensation for the costs of reinforcing buildings cracked by the earthquake, according to secret, undisclosed lists of recipients. Furthermore, it has become impossible to ask municipalities about evacuating buildings at risk of collapse or sealing them with red wax. Questions about the end destination of building debris are also off-limits. Currently, people are afraid of asking about temporary prefabricated housing, which countries such as China and the UAE have pledged to help provide. This includes questions about the sites for such housing and potential beneficiaries. Residents have discussed that some prefabricated homes arrived in Lattakia but were afraid to ask municipal employees about this. Some rumours even say there are secret lists of housing recipients that do not include everyone affected by the earthquake.
Abu Ali owns a two-storey building in the Lattakia countryside that partially collapsed due to the earthquake. He decided to rent a home in Homs and move his family there, fearing the building could collapse in the quake aftershocks. During that period, Abu Ali repeatedly visited his municipality and the Lattakia governorate to see what could be done, i.e. whether there was an entity tasked with reinforcing buildings or whether he would be compensated with alternative housing. He didn’t receive any definitive answers. Instead, his valid questions only raised suspicion and annoyance among the employees he interacted with. Abu Ali sold his car and some agricultural land three months after the earthquake. He moved with his family to a Gulf country. He said he had already endured ten years of war in the hopes of it ending and the situation improving. But after the earthquake, he said it was clear that the state would fail to manage any crisis, even natural disasters.
Sawsan’s house in a rural Lattakia village partially collapsed in the quake and became uninhabitable. She and her family moved to her mother’s house next door. It wasn’t until three months had passed since the earthquake that a structural safety committee arrived in the village to assess the damage. Sawsan asked the committee members if there was a government plan to compensate earthquake-affected residents with alternative housing and how she could obtain such housing. One of the committee’s engineers responded that they had no information. She fears asking such questions to the Lattakia governorate, feeling that the doors of state institutions are closed off to people like her.
Mohammad is a financially well-off man who owns an old house in Lattakia. A consulting engineer whom Mohammad hired at his own expense after the earthquake advised that the house was no longer habitable. Mohammad and his family left the house and rented a home in the Lattakia countryside, fearing returning to the damaged building would be dangerous. Meanwhile, the governorate refused to grant Mohammad a permit to reinforce his home and barred him from reinforcing it without a permit. Instead, Mohammad decided to reinforce the back of the building without a licence because it is not visible from the street, so the structural safety committees could not monitor it. His attempts to obtain a legal reinforcement permit for the front of the building were unsuccessful. He said the state employees have been unpredictable and make decisions that do not benefit people, leaving them vulnerable to various risks. According to Mohammad, residents have been left to their own devices to face the earthquake aftermath, as well as an authoritarian government that does not care about them. The governorate often issues contradictory decisions, sometimes facilitating reinforcement permits or restricting them without good reason.
Samer and his family live in Lattakia. Their entire building showed evident cracks from the earthquake. When Samer wanted to submit a request to the municipality for inspection and evaluation of whether the building was safely habitable, other building residents barred him from doing so, fearing involvement with municipal bureaucracy and the safety committees. Samer’s neighbours worried that if the building underwent inspection, the municipality could force them to evacuate their homes or that they might have to reinforce the structure at their own expense.
Riyad and Bahaa, two brothers, also found cracks in their building, where they live in adjacent apartments. All of the building residents evacuated to nearby shelter centres. The municipality still has not inspected their building, and the brothers have nowhere to live. So they decided to return to their apartments, despite the risk of the building collapsing. Bahaa says living in a dangerous home is better than waiting in uncertainty at a shelter centre.
Finally, Shaymaa is from Lattakia, where the building she and her family live in collapsed, killing some family members. Shaymaa is currently staying with remaining family members scattered across relatives’ homes. She heard recently that China would provide prefabricated alternative housing to earthquake-affected Lattakia residents but later heard from a relative that the homes were not meant for families. Instead, her relative told her the homes would be small and go to individuals. Shaymaa is afraid of asking the governorate for more information and says no officials have informed her about any potential alternative housing.