Many of Eastern Ghouta’s people, who wish to return to their towns, are aware that they might not find the walls of their houses erect, or at least would not have a piece of furniture left amidst the official media’s campaigns that are spreading news about the opened road to Ghouta and that the people will soon be allowed leave Damascus and the housing centers incubating them after they have been displaced.
The Ministers Council of the Syrian regime’s government has set up an emergency plan in sync with the military campaign that Assad’s forces launched against the area last March; however, its application, supposed to begin with identifying the damage caused by the military machine, was months late.
The battles, the shelling and the tunnels which the opposition has dug have all weakened the buildings’ constructive structures; thus, making a risk of the return to the houses there before conducting required examinations, which were not done before the declaration of the people’s return to the area.
The People’s Return to an Unreliable Infrastructure
In the past a few months, a number of the area’s families have returned, especially those who were displaced under the military campaign last March. Nonetheless, many of the returnees came up to the conclusion that their houses were inhabitable, pushing them to search for alternatives, as Mohammad, from the town of Hamouriyah, the central sector of Eastern Ghouta, has said, adding that the external part of his house was damaged due to the shelling, including the external walls, making it impossible to live there.
Mohammad, 45 years old, the head of a family consisting of a wife and tow sons, was forced to move to the city of Saqba and live in a house that is not his and without knowing to whom it belongs until he finishes the restoration of his own house.
He pointed out that he tried to conduct a simple restoration process, which cost him about a 100 thousand Syrian pounds, adding that he worked on the external walls only, without approaching the doors or the windows.
In each of Eastern Ghouta’s towns, dozens of families live in houses which they do not possess. This families were compelled to do thus after they have returned to find their houses inhabitable, according to what crossed sources have told Enab Baladi, in a time when the government is yet working on facilitating exiting the housing centers and allowing the people who headed towards Damascus and its countryside to return to Eastern Ghouta.
The Damage Inventory Committee Starts “Late”
The government of the Syrian regime has formed a committee to examine and assess the damage and to rehabilitate facilities and infrastructure, as well as the destroyed buildings in the area.
A source, informed of the committees’ work and who feared to reveal his name for security reasons, told Enab Baladi that the committee began functioning on June 19, describing this as a delayed step because the housing problem will soon appear on the surface, incase many families started to return, pointing out that the potential for a massive return is so far weak.
The source added that a number of the families, who are financially well established, have already maintained their houses and restored the damaged parts, that is incase the house was not completely destroyed. However, the poorer people could not afford the restoration process’ costs; these are living in temporary houses while the committee finishes its job and rehabilitates their houses as they hope.
Both official and loyalist media outlets did not address the reality of the committee’s work or its affiliation, with expectations that it falls under Rural Damascus Provincial Council, supervising the rehabilitation of Eastern Ghouta’s areas.
The Consultant Architect Mazhar Sharbaji, former head of the Engineers Union in rural Damascus, said that committees must be deployed to create a primary image of the area, consisting of representatives of municipalities or the Provincial Department, with the priority mission of general examination of the damage in the area they are covering.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Sharbaji said that if the committee’s task is to assess the damage of the constructive structure of the area’s buildings, the committee in this case must be formed by the Engineers Union, because it is the only entity which the law grants the right to undertake such a mission, the evaluation of a building’s safety.
The committee must be backed with specialists from other engineering fields to evaluate the rest of the damages in residential buildings and infrastructures, according to Sharbaji, who believes that the already formed committees are not perfect and are not conducting a comprehensive and multidimensional evaluation of damage, pointing out that a single committee would not be sufficient to cover the entirety of an area like Eadtern Ghouta, which requires ten committees.
A Life-Threatening Arbitrariness
The Rural Damascus Provincial Department has estimated the number of returnees to Eastern Ghouta with about 20 thousand persons according to the Mayor’s, Alaa Muneer Ibrahim, statement, which “al-Watan” newspaper has quoted on June 19.
Ibrahim stressed that needed proceedings will be made to ensure the return of the rest of the families, including opening the roads and schools and infrastructure restoration.
The unstudied return might impose a potential risk to people’s lives, according to engineer Sharbaji, who explained that in case the people have returned, they will take refuge in any place, which might trigger a population density in the less damaged houses, pointing out that each building has two weights to carry and which must be taken into consideration, alive mass (the people’s weight) and dead mass (furniture and the like) and under the circumstances similar to those Ghouta has suffered during the war, the buildings might not bear the pressure or its repercussions.
Sharbaji necessitated that the specialized committees must examine the buildings and their constructive structure, as well as evaluate them technically prior to the people’s return, fearing futuristic damage.
Rural Damascus Provincial Department Estimates the Costs
Rural Damascus Provincial Department has announced that the area’s infrastructure and schools will be rehabilitated, and the people will return to their areas this summer, according to “al-Watan,” which quoted Mayor Alaa Muneer Ibrahim as saying that summer was chosen, as to help people restore their houses without suffering weather changes.
In his interview with the newspaper, on June 21, Ibrahim said that the preliminary roads will be rehabilitated, and the transportations will be reactivated in upcoming days. He also pointed to an emergency plan to support the people in the restoration of their houses, in addition to the international organization that are already in action in the governorate.
The Department has budgeted more than three billion Syrian pounds to implement reconstruction projects in Eastern Ghouta out of the total sum allocated for the reconstruction of rural Damascus, which is five billion Syrian pounds for the first stage, while 200 million Syrian pounds will be assigned to the rehabilitation of services in the town of al-Malihah according to the governmental newspaper “Tishreen”.
According to “al-Watan,” Rural Damascus’ mayor has stated that the public sector’s companies will start working by the rehabilitation of roads and bridges, while each area will be offered between 100 to 150 Syrian millions to support municipalities.
A New Organizational Structure and A Frozen Construction Process
The government’s plan, which Mayor Ibrahim has referred to, includes new organizational schemes that rely on vertical construction, the height of which will reach eight floors, unlike the old ones where buildings’ height ranged from four to five floors according to the area, with the expectation of the city of Duma where buildings reached ten floors.
Abu Ahmad al-zain, one of the Harasta city’s residents, told Enab Baladi that the government has for now frozen the construction process, creating an opportunity for the regime loyalist brokers from the city of Harasta.
These brokers buy houses from the people and then resell them without knowing the true identity of the purchasers, triggering doubts that they might be army officers or Iranians who are pushing these dealers to buy the houses for them.
He added that the brokers are exploiting the people who are willing to sell their properties due to their financial dire situation and their inability to restore their houses.