Latakia: Earthquake affectees complain rents, officials’ irresponsibility
Latakia – Linda Ali
The 37-year-old primary school teacher Zainab has been living with her two children and her husband in her sister’s house in the coastal city of Latakia since the earthquake that struck the area on February 6, after the rented house in which she lived was demolished, and all her furniture and savings were lost.
Zainab does not hide her great embarrassment as a result of having to stay so long at her sister’s house, but she has no other choice, as house rents have doubled at least once after the night of the earthquake.
Zainab said, “We searched for a long time for a house to rent, but they are asking for insane amounts, such as 700,000 SYP and 800,000 SYP and even 1.5 million SYP, and we cannot bear these burdens.”
Zainab’s husband works in a private sector company in the seaport of Latakia, and his salary is considered good compared to government sector salaries, amounting to one million Syrian pounds (about $80). As for Zainab, her salary does not exceed 160,000 Syrian pounds before the last increase with compensation.
Zainab’s situation is similar to that of many families and people who were affected by the earthquake, as the number of those affected in Latakia exceeded 142,000, and 805 deaths and 1,131 injuries were recorded in the governorate, and the number of completely collapsed buildings reached 967, in addition to 3,833 buildings that need reinforcement and restoration.
Some houses cannot be restored
Muhannad, 37, moved to his home in the city of Jableh after years of waiting and housing loans whose installments had not yet been paid, but his joy was not complete, and the house in which he had been living for about a year was completely demolished, and he barely survived with his family, consisting of a wife and three children.
Muhannad said that since the night of the earthquake, he has been living in his family’s house in the remote countryside, and he was forced to completely change his family’s lifestyle and enroll his children in the village school because it is impossible for him to be able to rent a house in Latakia.
Muhannad believes that those responsible for the earthquake file and compensations “are negligent and do not value time,” adding, “Because they are not affected. If they were actually affected, perhaps they would have realized our suffering.”
Last July, the government announced compensation for the earthquake, stipulating that 160 million Syrian pounds be given to everyone whose house was demolished within the organizational plans, provided that it is disbursed in two installments to those who start construction during the current year.
The decision also provided for granting the affected people, whose residential homes need rehabilitation, sums ranging between 25 million and 75 million Syrian pounds, according to the reports of the Technical Engineers Syndicate concerned with estimating the extent of the damage.
Many of those affected are afraid of “corruption” in this file, such as Saer, 39, whose house walls were completely destroyed in the Latakia countryside, and he said, “Tomorrow the engineer in charge will ask for a bribe to decide it is major damage so that we can get the 75 million, and whoever does not pay will take only 25 million. Who can guarantee that nothing like this will happen?”
Saer’s concerns seem legitimate based on the Syrian experience and in comparison with today’s living reality with the spread of corruption and bribery, whether among employees or managers, due to insufficient salary, and the fact that the government did not provide those working on the earthquake file with adequate compensation.
($1=14,100 SYP) according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar.
Double suffering to people of outside urban planning
Homeowners in areas outside urban planning said that they were subjected to injustice twice, the first when life deprived them of owning a home in the outside urban planning areas due to insufficient funds, and the second when the government decided to compensate them only with an amount not exceeding 40% of the value of the house.
According to the decision of the Board of Directors of the Earthquake Victims Support Fund, those affected who lost their homes in slum areas have the right to subscribe to the General Housing Authority for a new home in one of the residential planning areas, provided that the state pays them 40 million SYP of the value of the house. The rest of the amount is paid through a loan granted by one of the state-run banks.
Mamdouh, 67, one of those who lost their homes in the Daatour neighborhood of Latakia, believes that the decision is a great injustice, saying that his family has been accustomed to living in the neighborhood for decades, wondering why he has to pay the price of the house again and change his place of residence.
The other problem that those affected in slums and illegal areas fear is the timing of granting them a house and the extent of its readiness for housing, especially since the General Housing Authority has a long history of delay in handing over homes and the delay often exceeds ten years, such as the Youth Housing project, which was supposed to be completed since 2012.
Mamdouh explained that today they live in rented houses and pay the rent with difficulty due to the economic crisis and the difficulty of obtaining a source of livelihood.
Damaged car owners are forgotten
The compensation declaration did not mention the affected people who lost their cars and shops, and there is no provision to compensate them, and most of that property is their main source of income.
Hussam, 34, a government employee, lost the public transport car he owned after it was damaged by the earthquake. He had bought it after selling his land in the countryside so that he could find an additional resource for his family, who lives in the city of Jableh. He said that their dependence as a family was on the vehicle supplier, as the salary is not enough, and today, he does not know whether he will be compensated or not.
Hussam tried to submit an objection to the mayor, as well as to the provincial council, but everyone told him that they did not have any authority and did not know and asked him to wait, adding, “If the compensation for those whose homes were destroyed came after six months, then perhaps our turn will not come before a full year, that is if they decide to compensate us.”
On February 6, a devastating earthquake struck the state of Kahramanmaraş in southern Turkey, and its repercussions, which are still evident so far, affected four Syrian governorates, killing more than 55,000 people in Syria and Turkey.
The number of victims of the devastating earthquake reached 50,096 deaths in Turkey, and 107,204 people were injured, according to the latest toll.
In northwestern Syria, the earthquake resulted in more than 4,500 deaths and 10,400 injuries. In areas controlled by the Syrian regime, the earthquake caused the death of 1,414 people in Hama, Aleppo, and Latakia.
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