Engineering committees that were formed by the Free Syrian Engineers’ Syndicate in northern Syria will work until the end of June to inspect and assess damages caused by the February 6 earthquake. The work comes as part of a comprehensive survey project for buildings and other facilities aimed at inspecting damages to private, public and governmental buildings as well as services in areas controlled by the Turkish-backed Syrian Interim Government (SIG).
According to Khaled Al-Othman, head of the Free Syrian Engineers’ Syndicate branch in Aleppo, the survey project began on February 16, 2023, after the initial emergency response period to the earthquake had ended. The project includes 27 “comprehensive survey committees”, each consisting of three engineers, one of whom is a structural consulting engineer to serve as the team leader.
As of May 29, 2023, the committees have inspected 33,087 buildings in the rural northern part of Aleppo governorate, covering 82 cities, towns, villages and settlements. Of those buildings, two percent were fully destroyed; three percent were severely damaged; 19 percent were moderately damaged; 38 percent were slightly damaged; and 38 percent were still safe. The committees also inspected 105 schools as of May 29, one of which was fully destroyed. Eight schools were severely damaged and 30 were moderately damaged.
The syndicate also formed three public safety committees tasked with studying the results and reports of the comprehensive survey committees, though only for the buildings that were classified as severely damaged. Afterward, these public safety committees will reinspect the buildings and give their final engineering opinion on whether they should be demolished, removed and their rubble cleared away; or whether the buildings can remain and undergo reinforcement. The three public safety committees are distributed geographically between Azaz, Afrin and Jandares.
As of May 29, these public safety committees had reassessed 609 of the 992 buildings classified as severely damaged. They transferred the results of these assessments to the demolition and removal committees of various local councils, which have the final say on whether to demolish the buildings. Those demolition committees are composed of three consulting engineers from the Free Syrian Engineers Syndicate, as well as a lawyer and two representatives from the relevant local council and public prosecution.
So far the demolition and removal committee in Jandares has demolished 39 buildings, 25 of which were done as part of a partnership between local councils and NGOs, and 13 in partnership with the Syrian Civil Defence (also known as the White Helmets). Meanwhile, during the same period, the committee in Afrin demolished and removed three buildings. Some of these demolitions were full in scope and meant tearing down the entire structure, while others were only partial and preserved some parts of the buildings that were still intact and would not be impacted by the demolition of damaged sections — especially ground storeys and basements.
Through consulting engineers who are members of these demolition and removal committees, the role of the Free Syrian Engineers Syndicate has been to suggest appropriate methods for demolition of each building. The syndicate is also meant to monitor the demolition process in order to maintain public safety and the safety of neighbouring buildings.
Notably, the Free Syrian Lawyers Syndicate, which is active in opposition-held areas, did not play a key role in following up on the earthquake’s impacts to housing, land and property rights. Instead, the syndicate has been limited to its usual rights and judicial roles, without connection to the demolition of earthquake-damaged buildings, Syndicate Council Secretary Youssef Al-Hussein told The Syria Report. However, lawyers who are members of the syndicate have participated on an individual level in the demolition and removal committees by following up on the legal conditions for those impacted by the damage and helping them obtain documents confirming their rights.
The Free Engineers Syndicate, meanwhile, is working on a set of standards and criteria for proper building reinforcement methods. They held an engineering conference at the Free University of Aleppo for this purpose on April 5 where participants presented and discussed various studies and research papers. The conference decided to adopt the Syrian Arab Code for the Design and Implementation of Reinforced Concrete Structures and its earthquakes appendix, as well as recommendations related to studies on reinforcement. Such studies are meant to be done separately for each building, and the responsibility for structural reinforcement lies with the local councils and at the expense of the property owners.
In this context, the Jandares local council issued a decision on May 31 stating that any cracked building that undergoes reinforcement without the council’s approval would be considered unlicensed construction. This decision was meant to ensure the application of proper standards for reinforcing cracked buildings, as well as the need for engineering committees to supervise such work.
Meanwhile, Civil Defence teams have nearly finished removing the rubble of buildings damaged by the earthquake, in accordance with the comprehensive action plan announced on March 9. Deputy Civil Defence Director Mounir Al-Mustafa told The Syria Report that the organisation’s teams have almost finished removing the rubble, and so far have cleared away more than 400,000 square metres of debris from more than 120,000 residential communities. They have also cleared roads in 197 residential communities and done 540 projects to remove cracked walls or roofs in 99 communities. Finally, they have prepared and filled 303,519 square metres of land in SIG-controlled areas. with rubble left behind by the earthquake after recycling it.