Syrian Bank Offers ‘Shameless’ Scheme to Rebuild quake-Hit Homes

DAMASCUS (North Press) – Amid an overall absence of Syrian government initiatives regarding the fate of people affected by the earthquake that hit Syria on Feb. 6 and their future, al-Wataniya Microfinance Bank, a pro-government bank based in Damascus, voiced its readiness to provide loans under a project called “Support” to repair damaged buildings in Aleppo, Latakia and Hama.  

The loan is set to provide 18 million Syrian pounds (SYP, about $2.600) to be re-paid over the period of 6 years. The bank’s administration revealed that the loan is a contribution to help people affected by the quake to repair their damaged shops and buildings.

However, most people did not accept the idea floated. Shaaban Youssef, one of the people affected by the earthquake, from the coastal city of Jableh, told North Press that the idea of the loan is an investment by the private sector in people’s agonies. Accepting the loan means more agonies and poverty for the survivors of the earthquake. How could a family that lost everything in the earthquake re-pay 250.000 SYP ($36) a month over the period of six years? How could an employee whose salary does not exceed $20 per month pay such a loan?   

He wondered “Where have billions that have been donated to the country for the affected people gone? Would it be given to people in the form of loans?

Hasna al-Muhammad an affected women from the city of Latakia said the idea was “shameless”.  

She said it is illogical to burden people to pay for a natural disaster and to repair their damaged houses. “They mean to turn us into beggars to be able to re-pay the sum of money every month.”

A university teacher at the Economy Faculty in Latakia said the bank cannot be blamed for its initiative since it forms part of the private sector. “It floated the idea as an option for the people affected by the quake. However, the state up to now has not declared any plan to compensate those affected and secure shelter for those lost their homes.”

Al-Wataniya Microfinance Bank was established in 2011. It claims providing a wide range of services by accepting deposits, granting small loans, and providing loan-related insurance services.

The teacher added that to compensate those people who opened their homes to the affected, they should receive regular tax-exempt lease contracts, without financial value, and specify a time agreed by the affected family and the owner to avert any future disputes.

The economist indicated that one of the problems that could occur in the future is that an affected family fails to leave the house it occupies or that the owner of the house demands it be evacuated.

A member of the Engineers Syndicate in Aleppo proposed a solution which would include building a safe zone for those affected by the earthquakes, with pre-made blocks provided with a kitchen, bathroom, and solar cells. “This could be supported by charities, concerned bodies, or NGOs.”

From his part, a member in Damascus Lawyers’ Syndicate said the reality on the ground pushes one to compare the approach adopted by Turkey in dealing with the earthquake to that by Syria. Turkey has commenced an investigation into the probability of cases of corruption related to collapsed buildings and tens of contractors have been arrested. In Syria nothing like this has taken place.

“The utmost they could do in Syria is to form committees to assess damages caused by the quake, saying they should be evacuated before being demolished,” according to the lawyer.

The lawyer noted that Article 24 of the Syrian Constitution stipulates that the “state undertakes to repair damages caused by natural disasters.”

Reporting by Layla al-Gharib