Four months after the February 6 earthquake, governmental housing projects for those whose homes were damaged or lost in the disaster are still in the initial stages of debris removal, for the homes destroyed, and foundation digging.
Chaos, confusion and lack of clarity pervade the official statements and data regarding these projects, although one can already conclude that government housing projects for victims of the earthquake are part of the third longer-term stage of the government’s national action plan, which was announced by the Council of Ministers on February 15 and approved two months later. This third stage stipulates that homes should be rebuilt and the urban landscape improved relative to the situation before the earthquake and war, through the rezoning and rebuilding of informal settlements.
There is also a variance in the nomenclature that Syrian officials use for these planned projects in the governorates of Aleppo and Lattakia; some of them call it alternative housing, for example. In this article, we will adopt the name government housing projects for eligible earthquake victims, to distinguish them from prefabricated temporary housing projects, which are funded by regional and international donors.
In all cases, there are doubts over the possibility of completing the government housing projects within the officially set one-year deadline. The modest number of expected completed homes may not meet the housing needs of the large numbers of affected people. Additionally, the criteria adopted to determine who are the beneficiaries of these homes after their completion remain unclear.
The earthquake caused the total collapse of 53 buildings in the city of Aleppo, with cracks appearing and partial collapses occurring in hundreds of other buildings. On February 19, the governor of Aleppo stated that 220 buildings at risk of collapse had been demolished.
On June 10, Prime Minister Hussein Arnous inspected two housing project sites for the quake victims in Aleppo; one in Al-Haidariya neighbourhood and the other in Al-Maasaraniya suburb for youth housing, east of the city. Arnous said during his visit that the two housing projects “contribute to solving the problem of unlicensed construction.” It is unclear what exactly he meant, but the two areas where these housing projects are being implemented include large informal settlements built on public property, some of which were damaged by the earthquake.
According to state media, four buildings will be constructed in Al-Haidariya, each consisting of 10 storeys with eight apartments each, making 320 apartments in total. The total area of these apartments will be 25,600 square metres, at a total cost estimated at SYP 66.6 billion. Jamal Karim, the head of the studies department at Aleppo city council, said on June 4 that the body studying the project is the Professional Practice Unit at Aleppo University, and that the General Housing Establishment under the Ministry of Public Works and Housing will implement it. Four months after the earthquake, work on this project is still in its early stages, which includes land levelling and digging foundations.
The land on which the project in Al-Haidariya is being built is owned by the Aleppo city council. On March 15, the head of Aleppo city council, Muadd Al-Madlaji, said that the area of land allocated in Al-Haidariya for housing the earthquake victims is 78 hectares large and can accommodate 10,000 residential apartments. It should be noted that Al-Haidariya is a large informal area where the Aleppo city council had previously created a 118-hectare real estate development zone in October 2010, which is also public property. So far, it is unclear what the boundaries of the new housing project for earthquake victims in Al-Haidariya are, and whether it extends to some of the land allocated for the real estate development area.
Meanwhile, the housing project in Al-Maasaraniya suburb east of Aleppo consists of four buildings containing 120 apartments, with each apartment ranging in size between 65 and 90 square metres, and a total floor area of 10,000 square metres, at a total estimated cost of SYP 18.6 billion. According to official announcements, the project is about 28 percent complete and is being carried out by the Military Construction Implementation Corporation (MCIC) of the Ministry of Defense—or Mataa in Arabic. The land on which the housing project in Al-Maasaraniya is being built is owned by the General Housing Establishment.
Al-Maasaraniya neighbourhood is located on the Aleppo-Raqqa highway, near Aleppo International Airport, and includes informal settlements built on public property. In 2002, the General Housing Establishment launched a youth housing project in Al-Maasaraniya. By 2010, only the first phase of the project had been completed, and part of it was handed over to applicants. From 2012 onwards, Al-Maasaraniya, including its youth housing, became a dangerous area due to its proximity to the airport, and until 2016 it was subjected to aerial bombardment by the regime, pushing most of its residents to flee and causing widespread destruction.
Both the projects in Al-Haidariya and Al-Maasaraniya have a one-year implementation deadline, Deputy Governor of Aleppo, Komeit Assi Al-Sheikh, told the state-run Tishreen newspaper on June 6.
The Minister of Public Works and Housing, Suhail AbdulLatif, inspected work at the housing project sites in Al-Haidariya and Al-Maasaraniya on June 3, pointing to the government’s interest in the buildings for eligible people as part of the measures included in the national earthquake response plan. AbdulLatif said that work is being done in a systematic engineering and administrative manner, urging adherence to execution quality and compliance with the set schedule. AbdulLatif chaired a meeting at the governorate building, in which he was briefed on a detailed presentation about the structural work, cladding and implementation phases in the two projects.
In the Lattakia governorate, 50 buildings completely collapsed and dozens partially collapsed due to the earthquake. In mid-May, the governor of Lattakia said there were 1,200 damaged buildings on the verge of collapse needing to be demolished, according to reports from public safety committees.
Similar to Aleppo, housing projects will be established in Lattakia for earthquake victims on lands owned by the General Housing Establishment, as well as lands owned by the Lattakia City Council. The governor of Lattakia, Amer Hilal, confirmed in mid-May that construction had begun on four residential towers in the city’s Al-Thawra Street neighbourhood, and two towers in Al-Gharraf neighbourhood. He added that preparations had also begun to construct two towers in the city of Jableh. The Minister of Public Works and Housing and the governor of Lattakia, inspected on May 13, the status of the works in some of these projects.
Each tower consists of 10 storeys of apartments, each ranging from 80 to 100 square metres. The actual number of apartments in these projects is unclear amid conflicting figures released by official sources; some numbers indicated the construction of 160 apartments on General Housing Establishment-owned land, and 160 apartments on lands owned by the Lattakia City Council. Other sources pointed to 320 apartments on GHE lands, and 80 apartments on city council lands under the management of the GHE and implemented by public construction companies.
In any case, work is currently still in its preliminary stages in all these projects. The Minister of Housing indicated that work is still focused on testing soil resistance at the site intended for the construction of two towers in Jableh, while the General Company for Engineering Studies is preparing engineering studies for the project. After their completion, the excavation work will commence.
On March 15, the head of the Lattakia Governorate Council told the semi-official Al-Watan newspaper that work was underway to provide housing to those who lost their homes in the quake. He added that preparations were underway to build a clear and precise database to identify and count all the victims whose homes were destroyed or cracked beyond repair. The official pointed out that administrative units will work on preparing the site for construction, and the governorate is preparing the infrastructure for sewerage networks, water and all other public services.