How Syrian government exacerbates quake-survivors’ crises?


Survivors in government-held quake-affected areas of Syria complain about the false promises made by the government. They describe the government as “exploiters of tragedy,” as those residents were already suffering from difficult humanitarian conditions due to the 12 years of war in Syria before the February 6 earthquake exacerbated their catastrophic position, and left them living in shelters that lack the most basic necessities of life.

The number of quake victims in Syria, according to the Monitoring and Documentation Department of North Press, is 12,731, including 5,315 deaths and 7,416 injuries, while the number of totally collapsed buildings and houses reached 1,333. About 4,595 were partially damaged, of which 1,840 were in the government-held areas, including 410 completely collapsed buildings and houses.

“With my husband’s sacrifices, who was killed in the war, I bought my house, which was destroyed in the earthquake, and I ended up living in a shelter with my son, waiting for aid that does not cover our needs,” said Fatima Muhammad, a pseudonym for a so-called ‘martyr’s wife’ from the city of Jableh.

In her interview with North Press, the woman indicated that the shelter in which they were staying was a school in the Naqa’a area in Jableh, and they were recently taken out of it and relocated to furnished houses, which the UAE had provided a year’s rent for, for 25 families.

The mother is worried about her family’s fate after the year passes, as her two sons are studying at university, and her salary does not secure her daily food expenses. On top of that ,she still has to pay the monthly payments of the loan of her damaged house.

Not only all those affected by the earthquake are staying in the shelters, but those who are in need or relief aid, too. A nurse working in a medical center in Jableh told North Press that all of her neighbors in an area called al-Fayd stayed in the camps at night and returned to their work and houses during the day, because the aid is distributed at night. The authorities did not think that those who were not affected would sleep in the shelter.

“The distribution of aid was random, and those in need did not really benefit from it, because most of them went to the villages and stayed with their relatives, and they did not receive the aid that was distributed in shelters,” she added.

Hasna Haddad, a pseudonym for one of those affected by the earthquake, said, “I stayed for a while in the national stadium, but because of the spread of lice and scabies in the shelters, because the gypsies rushed to these centers, they usually go to the affected cities to benefit from the distributed aid, so they spread epidemics among people.”

Haddad added that after she had left the center. She took refuge in her sister’s house in Damascus, because the family’s house in Aleppo could no longer accommodate more, as all her affected brothers who lost their homes were living there.

“Selling the house is the only solution,” said Alaa Safar, a pseudonym for a resident of Salah al-Din neighborhood in Aleppo. “I can’t do anything else. After the engineering committees assessed the building, they estimated the value of repairing the damage at 150 million Syrian pounds [about $18,295].”

Safar said, “Selling the property is not a solution, but I do not have another choice. If I want to wait for the government’s help, I will have to wait for another ten years. With the money that I will gain of my house’s sale, I will build another small building in my town in the northern countryside.”

According to local residents, during the past month, there has been an increase in the rate of buying and selling damaged properties, as most of the residents do not have the financial ability to restore their properties.

Real estate office owners took advantage of the situation and bought the affected buildings under market value, taking advantage of the people’s need and their inability to repair their homes, according to the locals.

Walid al-Kurdi, a pseudonym for a residents from the al-Salihin neighborhood in Aleppo, which is considered one of the most affected neighborhoods of the earthquake, said, “my house had already cracked due to the previous bombing, and the earthquake exacerbated the damage, the structure of the building needs to be reinforced.”

“The government did not provide any kind of support to those affected, with my daily income, which amounts to 15,000 Syrian pounds ($1,80), it is impossible for me to renovate my house, nor to obtain a loan that I will not be able to repay later,” al-Kurdi added.

Al-Kurdi accuses the influential people in the government of putting obstacles before any initiative or aid that may reach the affected areas.

“We depend on alms. The tents we are sheltering in were provided to us from the Iraqi aid teams, the local authorities do nothing to us,” said Hala Haddad, a resident of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, describing the living conditions of those affected by the earthquake in Aleppo, over two months after the earthquake.

Haddad lost her home in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood in Aleppo in the earthquake, she has been living with her daughter in a tent near the al-Zebdiyyah bridge in the Jebb al-Chalabi neighborhood, “We do not have a home, clothes, or even the basic necessities of life; our situation is too difficult.”

Haddad, like other earthquake-affected people, did not receive any government support or aid. She points out that all she owns is her tent.

“Teams from the governorate came, made me fill out a questionnaire and did not come back until now. I applied for a rental allowance through the Chamber of Industry and did not get it,” she told North Press.

Haddad attributes the reason for this situation to favoritism, even in humanitarian actions.”

After the earthquake, the government opened shelters. The aid was provided by the Syrian Trust for Development centers, as anyone wishing to give aid to those affected had to go through one of the Development centers.

An expatriate told North Press that he did his best to deliver aid donated by members of German associations, who wanted to personally deliver material and in-kind assistance to those affected. But after many attempts, the donors sent their aid to areas in Idlib after they did not manage to find someone to provide assistance to the quake-victims in government-held areas.

Despite the promises made by the Syrian government to those affected by the earthquake, such as to provide hundreds of prefabricated houses for those affected, nothing has been implemented so far. About three months after the earthquake, the Syrian Prime Minister, Hussein Arnous, laid out at a plan at a press conference on April 25, to deal with the effects of the earthquake. But victims say that his plan “is a fever dream”.

Anyone wishing to assess the damage to their homes must pay 200,000  Syrian pounds [around $27] to one of the engineering committees. If they want to obtain a report for the restoration of the damaged house, they have to pay more than one million Syrian pounds [$133], which most resident cannot afford.

In Aleppo, about 413 buildings were demolished and 5,301 buildings are in need of being reinforced, according to reports by the committee teams affiliated with the Engineers Association in the city.

An exclusive source from the Aleppo City Council told North Press that it is too early to talk about the construction of new homes for those affected by the earthquake in the city.

He stated that the idea of starting to build housing for those affected “may take years.” For the time being, the council does not even have the needed machinery to remove rubble from the narrow streets in Aleppo’s residential neighborhoods.