Syrian regime eyes quake-linked donor funds
Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa
The ambitions of the Syrian regime focus on relief funds that may be provided through the United Nations to the affected people of the Feb.6 earthquake and on the funds granted to rehabilitate their dilapidated buildings.
The earthquake’s direct damage in Syria was estimated by the World Bank at $5.1 billion in areas already severely ravaged by long conflict and displacement. But the direct damage estimated by the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, was ten times higher.
The February 6 earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria caused an estimated $5.1 billion in direct physical damages in Syria, according to a World Bank Global Rapid Assessment (GRADE) report released on March 3.
The current value of the damaged and destroyed capital stock is estimated at about 10% of GDP. The widespread damages impacted four governorates, where around 10 million of Syria’s population resides, the report said.
The GRADE report finds that Aleppo (population of 4.2 million) was the most severely hit governorate with 45% of the estimated damages ($2.3 billion), followed by Idlib (37% or $1.9 billion) and Latakia (11% or $549 million).
Direct damages to residential buildings account for nearly half of total damages (48.5% of the median value or $2.5 billion), while damages in non-residential buildings (e.g., health facilities, schools, government buildings, and private sector buildings) account for one-third of the total impact (33.5% or $9.7 billion). Infrastructure damages account for 18% of total damages ($0.9 billion), according to the GRADE.
For his part, al-Assad said in statements he made to Russia Today (RT) channel on March 16 that the material losses caused by the earthquake exceeded $50 billion, noting that the assessment procedures “have not been completed yet.”
Al-Assad also gave estimates of the material losses of the “war in Syria,” as he described it, at more than $400 billion, considering that it is an approximate number, and it may be “larger,” given that the northwestern and eastern regions of Syria are outside the influence of the regime and are not included in the statistics.
“Umbrella to get funds”
Syria’s real GDP is expected to contract by 5.5% in 2023 following the February 6 and February 20 earthquakes that hit the northern and western parts of the country, according to a new World Bank damage assessment report released on March 17.
Economic growth may contract further if reconstruction progress is slower than expected, given limited public resources, weak private investment, and limited humanitarian assistance reaching the affected areas, the report said.
The Syria Earthquake 2023 Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA) estimates recovery and reconstruction needs across the six assessed governorates at US$7.9 billion, with needs in the first year following the earthquake estimated at $3.7 billion and at $4.2 billion in the two consecutive years. The agriculture sector registered the largest needs (27% of total needs), followed by housing (18%), social protection (16 %), and transport (12%).
Syria’s GDP contraction is expected to widen by 2.3 percentage points in 2023. Physical damages and losses estimated at US$3.7 billion and US$1.5 billion, respectively. Recovery and Reconstruction needs are estimated at US$7.9 billion over three years.
The Syria Earthquake 2023 Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA)
The economist, Zaki Mahshi, told Enab Baladi that the World Bank’s estimates are based on a methodology that focuses on material (physical) losses only and that the margin of error is “wide.” Based on this, he believes that the value of direct and indirect damages exceeds these estimates.
Among the indirect damages are the negative impact on the gross domestic product, job opportunities and capital loss for entrepreneurs, and damage to infrastructure.
On the other hand, the economic researcher believes that al-Assad’s estimates ($50 billion) are “exaggerated,” resulting from the lack of a complete scientific assessment of the affected areas due to the fact that some of them are located outside his areas of influence.
The regime follows a policy of “intentional confusion” between the damages of the earthquake and what was destroyed by the war, especially in the city of Aleppo, according to Mahshi, who attributed this policy as an “umbrella to obtain funds” from the Arab world, in light of the normalization movement that the region is witnessing with the regime.
The director of the Syrian program at the Observatory of Political and Economic Networks, Karam Shaar, told Enab Baladi that the claim that the cost of the earthquake damage in Syria amounts to $50 billion is an unbelievable figure.
Shaar, a Ph.D. in economics, relied on the fact that the initial World Bank report, regarding the earthquake damage in Turkey, estimated the damage in Turkey at 34 billion dollars, and in Syria at 5.1 billion, while al-Assad’s estimates ($50 billion) are greater than the two figures combined, although the damage in the regime’s area of influence is three times less than in northwestern Syria and much less than that of Turkey.
Shaar described al-Assad’s claim as an “attempt to beg” for economic support by exaggerating the extent of the damage.
The economist pointed out that it is not possible to conduct an actual comprehensive assessment in Syria by any institution because the number of damaged buildings and the cost of their reconstruction have not been counted, and the indirect damages caused by lost opportunities for profit-making institutions so far.
The Syria Earthquake 2023 Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA) follows a globally established and recognized damage, loss, and needs assessment methodology jointly developed by the WBG, EU, and the UN.
This methodology has been applied globally in post-disaster and conflict contexts to inform recovery and reconstruction planning. This assessment relies on remote data sources, including satellite imagery, (social) media analytics, anonymized cellphone data, night lights data, publicly available information, and partner organizations’ data.
No vision of compensation
Twenty-four days after the earthquake, the Higher Committee for Relief in the government of the Syrian regime presented the damage to the Syrian governorates and stated that the number of affected families reached 91,794 families, with the number of individuals amounting to 414,304 people.
According to the committee, the number of buildings that are unfit for use is 4,444, the number of buildings that need reinforcement is 29,000, and the number of safe buildings that need maintenance is 30,000, while 292 buildings that were at risk of collapsing were demolished.
The government of the regime secured about 250 shelters in the affected governorates during the first days after the earthquake, then some centers were emptied for operational needs, leaving 139 centers until mid-March.
On February 20, the Minister of Housing, Suhail Abdullatif, announced that construction companies would be assigned to secure 300 prefabricated housing units for the affected people as a first step, without clarifying what these units can absorb from the affected people.
On March 15, Abdullatif increased the number of these housing units, saying that the ministry is working on implementing 440 housing units in Aleppo, 300 housing units in Latakia, and 60 housing units in Jableh, without mentioning what has been accomplished so far.
As of the date of writing the report, the government of the regime did not mention any plans for the reconstruction of the buildings damaged or destroyed by the earthquake as compensation for their owners, similar to the neighboring country, which was also affected by the earthquake. However, a presidential decree was issued on March 12 stipulating the granting of a loan to those affected in order to restore their homes or reconstruct them.
The presidential decree stipulated that those affected by the earthquake be given a “chance” to borrow up to 200 million pounds from public banks, to be repaid over ten years, and the repayment maturity begins three years after the date the loan was granted.
The economic researcher, Zaki Mahshi, explained that the regime’s government has no vision or intention to rebuild the homes of the affected people, as there is no “financial solvency” for this process.
Reconstruction requires a clear development vision for the affected areas, human capital, and an integrated plan that includes political and social dimensions, which the regime does not have, according to the researcher.
Mahshi believes that the supportive decisions for those affected by the necessity of securing housing units or decrees are taken by the regime only to calm the streets.
During the donors’ conference dedicated to supporting those affected by the devastating earthquake in Syria and Turkey, on March 20, international donors pledged 950 million euros to Syria in the form of grants not intended for reconstruction but to help meet humanitarian needs and support early recovery.
The policy of the EU and the US requires not to provide funding or support for the reconstruction of areas under the influence of the regime until the start of actual and irreversible measures towards the political transition of government in accordance with UN Resolution 2254.
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