Rubble cities waiting for reconstruction
Enab Baladi’s Investigation Team
Mohammed Homs / Nour Dalati / Habeh Shehatah
No serious move to remove the rubble
After the Syrian regime managed to establish control over large areas during the last two years (2017 and 2018), the reconstruction file occupied a great deal of the discussions taking place between the guarantors of the Astana process (Turkey, Russia, Iran), the EU countries and the US about the future of Syria.
The two files of reconstruction and the non-harmful remnants of war have been intertwined. The second file mainly revolves around the ruins of the buildings caused by the bombing, especially in opposition-held areas starting with Daraa, moving to Eastern Ghouta, Homs and Aleppo.
The ruins constitute a major obstacle to the people who chose to stick to their homes, cities and towns as both government and citizens were incapable of any reaction. Meanwhile, official bodies in Syria have not taken real steps to resolve the issue of the rubble. Thousands of citizens have assumed the responsibility of rehabilitating their own properties, while much of the infrastructure in Syria became rubble.
The United Nations describes the devastation in Syria as “unprecedented” and estimates the cost of reconstruction at $ 400 billion, in line with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who estimated the reconstruction process to take between 10 to 15 years.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem declared during an interview with Russian magazine “Interaffairs” in September 2018 that 75 % of Syria’s infrastructure had been destroyed.
The “Syrian Cities Damage Atlas,” issued by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in cooperation with the REACH initiative in March, shows the amount of damage brought by eight years of conflict to the Syrian cities, following the analysis of satellite images.
“Individual” efforts to remove rubble
Despite the government’s issuance of legislations related to the removal of rubble, such as Law No. 3 of 2018, which provided for “removing the rubble of buildings damaged as a result of natural or unnatural causes or subject to demolition law,” these legislations have not yet been implemented.
At the same time, official and pro-regime media have been promoting that the rubble removal process began in several governorates, such as Aleppo, Damascus, and Homs. However, local sources in Syria have confirmed to Enab Baladi that individuals and real estate owners are the ones who removed the rubble.
Thanks to local parties in Eastern Ghouta, Enab Baladi managed to monitor several cases of rubble removed by residents of the destroyed neighborhoods at a time when the government of the regime was cleaning up the entrances of Damascus.
A local source in Eastern Ghouta told Enab Balaldi, on condition of anonymity, that the people in his neighborhood in Hamouriyah paid for a bulldozer to clean the entrances of the buildings. He also said that the cost of removing the rubble in the 100 meters long neighborhood amounted to 75,000 Syrian pounds.
The source pointed out that the cleaning process does not involve transferring rubble to landfills or anywhere else. The people are only removing the rubble and piling them up in a corner away from the neighborhood.
On the other hand, the source talked about much broader moves aiming to remove the rubble, stressing that the merchant Mohi Eddine al-Manfush, a resident of the town of Mesraba, signed a contract with the Military Housing Establishment to transfer rubble from the cities and towns of Mesraba, Madira and Beit Sawa.
Whereas, many depend on the funds of expatriates to reconstruct homes and remove the rubble in all cities and towns of Ghouta, according to the same source.
In Aleppo, the government of the regime is working to remove the rubble bit by bit, being paid by individuals according to an engineer from the city of Aleppo, who asked not to be named for security reasons.
The source added that the state is opening main roads on its own, while technical committees are formed by the Engineers Syndicate to assess the damage and removal of rubble, in Sukkari, Sakhour, Sheikh Najjar and the Ancient City neighborhoods, in addition to other neighborhoods in east Aleppo.
The source, taking part in some of the engineers committees, estimated the percentage of the rubble removal not to exceed 5% of the total destroyed buildings, denying rumors about the existence of any reinvestment and recycling process of the rubble.
The engineer also denied rumors about launching a project for sorting and recycling rubble in the area of ”Ramouse” in Aleppo, which is believed to provide building materials intended to be used to reconstruct sidewalks.
In Daraa, reconstruction efforts varied according to the citizens’ financial resources, working to remove the rubble of the old buildings and restore what they can in order to guarantee shelters alternative to the camps of displacement, according to the correspondent of Enab Baladi.
Citizens are paying
According to an opinion poll conducted by Enab Baladi, repairing destroyed houses, which include removing rubble, strengthening foundation and repairing furniture, are carried out on a small scale in Syria by property owners and at their expense.
Enab Baladi asked the following questions: “Did you renovate your home after being damaged by the war in Syria? At whose expense?”
79% of the 2,800 participants answered “no” while 21% said they had restored their homes.
Users also interacted with the issue of the repair expenses commenting on the survey. Most of them admitted having paid for repairing their homes, at their own expense.
Those who did not rebuild their houses or remove the rubble represent two different groups, namely those who were living abroad, unable to reach their homes, and others who did not have enough money to do so.
The Syrian regime started providing compensation to the owners of destroyed houses, ranging from 300,000 to 500,000 Syrian pounds per apartment.
The engineer in Aleppo confirmed to Enab Baladi that citizens are paying for most of the restoration charges, and that the amount of money offered by the regime is not enough for removing the rubble and strengthening, restoring, maintaining and refacing the buildings.
The source pointed out that the cost of labor force has become much more expensive, in addition to the high prices of basic materials needed for restoration and renting equipment for removing rubble. This forced people to assume restoration fees on their own.
Government operations to open main entrances
On the other side, government operations have been concentrated on cleaning public areas and main streets, amid repeated promises and allocation of funds to clear the rubbles. These works have been carried out in some areas, but other regions have been neglected.
In the case of Eastern Ghouta, Damascus Governorate allocated five billion Syrian pounds to remove the rubbles and restore the towns and government centers, pro-regime newspaper al-Watan quoted the Governor of the countryside of Damascus, Alaa Munir Ibrahim, on June 18, 2018.
The government of the Syrian regime has been cooperating with the United Nations in infrastructure rehabilitation projects, especially in Aleppo and the countryside and neighborhoods of Damascus, which have witnessed conflict over the past years. In a statement to Hashtag Syria website, Head of Harasta City Council Adnan al-Waz said: “Effective cooperation has been launched between the City Council and the United Nations Development Organization, following which 90,000 cubic meters of rubbles were removed, with promises to remove more.
The regime’s government has also been cooperating with the Palestinian government bodies in the rubbles removal file in Yarmouk Camp in southern Damascus. A joint plan between the PLO and the Syrian regime was launched last September to remove the rubbles from the camp, following which 50,000 cubic meters of rubbles were removed and main roads were opened, according to the French news agency AFP.
As monitored by Enab Baladi in the statements of members of municipalities in the regime-controlled governorates, the rubble removal work is concentrated in the main streets of the Syrian governorates, including the Quneitra and Daraa in southern Syria. The Reconstruction Committee allocated 500 million Syrian pounds for emergency maintenance of the most affected sites on the highway of Damascus – Daraa – the Jordanian borders, reported the Syrian Prime Ministry website last September.
At the same time, efforts in the non-regime-controlled areas were limited to small-scale rehabilitation projects, such as those carried out by the Self-administration of North and East Syria (NES), and some by the Syria Civil Defense Organization in the northwestern governorate of Idlib.
What are the rubbles? And how can they be used?
The rubbles in the Arabic and engineering dictionaries are the remains of the demolition of a building and buildings remnants, including stones and iron after the demolition of houses. Rubbles may result from natural factors, such as earthquakes and landslides, or from human factors, including intentional sabotage and destruction in conflicts and wars.
Engineer Mohamed Mazhar Sharbaji, the head of governance and capacity building at the Local Administration Councils Unit (LACU) in Syria, divides the rubbles into two types: the debris that are collected and disposed of to rubble dumps for recycling, and existing rubbles that are not habitable and need to be assessed to demolish or restore them.
Sharbaji pointed out to the importance of the recycling of rubbles for future construction uses, considering “rubbles” a national wealth that needs sorting experts and assessment committees.
The recycling of construction and demolition waste is usually carried out in developed countries around the world, to benefit from the resulting materials.
Cement in the rubbles can be reused. Stone, gravel, as well as blocks can also be used for the restoration and paving of roads.
The residues of the buildings usually consist of concrete, ceramics, tiles, glass, iron, wood, asphalt, soil and the remnants of sanitary and electrical installations.
Specific methods are often followed to deal with these rubbles in countries where recycling plants are available. The methods of dealing with rubbles vary depending on their type. Demolitions produce substances that can be divided after their separation or collection into materials and elements that can be used directly in their condition (metals, iron, wood), reusable materials after their treatment (aggregates, stone, wood), or materials that cannot be reused because they are contaminated and harmful to the environment and health, such as insulation materials.
The removal of rubbles and reconstruction are related to a political solution
The removal of rubbles is the first step in any reconstruction project, and thus these two cannot be separated considering that any decision to remove rubbles is supposed to take into account alternative plans, and to be also based on future scenarios.
This justifies the fact that the rubbles removal file in Syria is not moving on a large scale. With the government’s hesitation and the slow pace of these actions, in return for the individual efforts made in this regard, this operation does not seem to be achieved in Syria in the near future.
Yasser al-Najjar, a former minister of housing in the Syrian Salvation Government, considered that the removal operation is a huge process that needs to be well planned, and that the Syrian regime is currently unable to carry out any economic role in the reconstruction projects.
“To this day, we cannot say that the regime has a particular reconstruction plan. All that the regime is currently doing is propaganda projects that are aimed at convincing European countries, donor countries and international as well as local public opinion that it has won the battle, and that it has moved to the next phase, which is reconstruction,” al-Najjar added in an interview with Enab Baladi.
The reconstruction file is related to the economic blockade imposed by the United States and the European Union countries, which are linking reconstruction to reaching a political solution.
Al-Najjar cited the current crises in Syria, such as those of the pound and the fuels and the suffering in the regime-controlled areas, to prove the non-seriousness of statements that say the regime is capable of carrying out its duties through its managing of the reconstruction file. Al-Najjar described this as “a red herring.”
European support for the reconstruction process is linked to the political process, in line with its demands for a political transition. European and US pressure is continuing through the economic sanctions aimed at reducing financial obligations with the Syrian regime or dealing with it in reconstruction projects.
On the side of the countries allied to the regime, such as Russia and Iran, the responsibilities are great. If Iran is excluded from the process because of the sanctions imposed on it, the Russian side remains, which imposed itself in the Syrian scene.
Al-Najjar believes that the regime begs help in the reconstruction operation from the Russian side and neighboring countries. He pointed out that the real contribution to reconstruction projects will be after the end of the political process, through the existence and the adoption of a comprehensive political solution in Syria and the change of the head of the Syrian regime.
Rubble removal law…
Preliminary step to Law No. 10
On February 12, 2018, the President of the Syrian regime approved Law No. 3 on “removing the rubbles of damaged buildings as a result of natural or non-natural causes or their subjection to laws requiring their demolition.”
The law includes 14 articles regulating the removal and utilization of the rubbles, in preparation for their disposal and the determination of the fate of millions of damaged buildings in Syria, whether by restoring, strengthening, demolishing or removing them.
The law did not spark controversy in the media and has not taken up much of legal debate, although it contains legislations that could be supportive, helping and possibly founding for Act No. 10 of April 2, 2018. Law No. 10 provides for the creation of one or more regulatory zones as part of the general organizational chart of the administrative units commissioned by the Ministry of Local Administration, which might choose any area it wants to impose a new organizational chart for it, without referring back to the local councils.
Before discussing the reasons why the rubble removal law complements Law No. 10, it is important to reconsider some technical points, which make the implementation of this law a real problem at present time.
No technical committees and no time limit
Article 2, paragraph (a) states: “The Governor shall, on the proposal of the administrative unit, issue a decision specifying the area of the damaged real estate and buildings covered by the provisions of this law. The decision shall specify the time limit for the administrative unit to prepare a detailed report on the condition of this area, providing that such period does not exceed 120 days.” Thus, under Article 4, paragraph (a), the Governor issues a decision to form a committee to describe the damaged buildings and verify its owners and the ownership of the holdings.
The committee is composed of a judge to supervise the real estate condition, named by the Minister of Justice, the head of the real estate registration department of the competent real estate directorate, a representative of the administrative unit of first category, and a real estate appraisal expert as well as two representatives of the locals.
Eng. Mazhar Sharabji, a governance and capacity building officer at the Local Administration Councils’ Unit (LACU) in Syria, noted that a committee of six cannot finish the damage assessment within 120 days.
Sharabji told Enab Baladi that the committee is composed of a real estate department, which is a body for characterization that can perform part of the committee’s work. However, the first paragraph of article 5 grants the committee the power to assess the state of the building” whether it is structurally sound or not,” which out passes the jurisdictions of the real estate department. He added: “The Engineers Syndicate usually appoints the appraisal committees to evaluate the condition of the buildings. These specialized committees are composed of three, five or seven engineers, including a structural engineer and practicing engineers, in addition to a soil engineer to examine the soil and foundations, and an architect to analyze the data. Following the evaluation, the committee prepares a typical report about the construction status and the necessary tests conducted in this regard, and then reports on whether this construction needs to be strengthened or removed.”
How do the absentees lose their rights by law?
Article (4) paragraph (a) of the law provides that “the committee shall prepare a list of the owners of the properties whose ruins have been removed within 120 days, and submit it to the administrative authority. This list shall include the name of the area where the real estate is situated, the real estates’ numbers as well as the names of the owners of private holdings and the rubble, in addition to their share and other necessary information.”
Property owners can appeal against the contents of the list within 30 days from the day following its publication, and then the concerned administrative unit will determine, after the deadline for the announcement, a date for the sale of the rubble at the auction. In this case, the rubble of the building, which the owners did not reclaim, is to be sold without getting them notified.
If the owner proves ownership of the property after the period of appeal and the implementation of the decision of demolition, he/ she receives compensation according to paragraph (b) of Article 10.
Under article 11, paragraph (d), “the value of a peremptory transfer shall be deposited in a private account, in a public bank, on behalf of the administrative unit and shall be frozen in favor of the entitlement holders who proved ownership.” However, the following paragraph of the same article states: “The expenses of rubble removal carried out by the administrative unit are to be deducted from the funds deposited under the preceding paragraph,” leaving room for the loss of owners’ rights again.
Sharbaji explained the way this process is carried out, in reference to paragraph (b) of Article 3, saying it states that “the executive office in the administrative unit shall contract consensually with a public or private entity” in order to transport the rubble. However, the risk lies in the pre-contract period and the deal which the administrative unit may conclude with the contracting entity.
For example, the owner may return after the sale of the rubble of his property and prove ownership. In this case, he can be informed that the price of the property is equivalent to the expenses of removal and transport of rubble, and therefore he/she does not get anything for the property.
According to Sharabji, this law would have been effective had the situation been normal and the country in a state of peace. In the present, the law could be unjust and deny people their rights, as millions of Syrians are currently living outside the country.
On the road to Law No. 10
The law defines the rubble as “the remnants of demolished buildings, including the construction materials, and unnecessary private possessions or objects which have not been claimed by the owner.” This means, according to Sharabji, that the authorities may handle freely any building which has not been claimed by its owner, who may be absent at that period.
The law also allows committees, established under its provisions, to determine whether the properties need to be repaired or completely demolished and removed, which could allow for removing buildings completely and establishing new regulatory areas under Law No. 10.
Sharabji deduced that “this law is complementary to Law No. 10. Under the first one, the buildings are demolished, and under the second law plans are conducted.”