One Year Since the Joufeh Collapses: Postponed Solutions and Ongoing Suffering

By Lina Shannak, translated by Ayyam Safadi

The people of Joufeh Camp, east of the capital Amman woke up last October 31st to an eviction notice carried by Public Security personnel to two homes neighboring the buildings, which collapsed in January. The people refused to leave, amid uncertainty surrounding the fate of their neighbors who lost their homes before them.

After three buildings collapsed in Al Joufeh area, the Public Safety and Construction Committees at the Ministry of Public Works recommended, following a survey of the site at the time, to remove these two neighboring buildings, until the Royal Scientific Society conducts a comprehensive study of the area, according to Engineer Muneer Kakish, a consultant at the RSS and a member of the Public Safety Committee.

Kakish added that this geotechnical study aims to survey the area to identify areas of risk and the sites of caves and landslides. Correspondence has been established with GAM to facilitate the mission by preparing the site, to guarantee the “safety of citizens”.

However, the citizens stood up to this attempt that day, while their neighbors also stood up to a proposal that they heard through the media and were informed of through MP Dima Tahboub, regarding their compensation with apartments in the “Decent Accommodation for Decent Living”.

Since the collapse incident in January of this year, the residents of the area have been living in rented homes whose rent was paid by the Ministry of Social Development in cooperation with the Norwegian Refugee Council, until recently. The contract signed between the rental home owners and the Council concluded last August, and the additional one month extension expired in September. Many of them are required to pay the rent for October, and they claim that they do not have it.

In spite of this, many continue to reject a solution that will remove them from the land that they own, which they bought from the Housing and Urban Development Corporation in the eighties, taking them to the city’s suburbs.

What happened since January?

Immediately after the collapse, approximately 381 individuals were evicted from the area, i.e. 55 families. They were put up in hotel suites, and later in rented homes, with the spending on the Ministry of Social Development’s intervention, according to its Spokesperson Fawwaz Al Ratrout, totaling “approximately 150 thousand JD on these families”.

The people continued to aspire for rebuilding on the same site. However, ancient caves found upon clearing the rubble of the collapsed building extended the wait pending a decision by the Department of Antiquities on the land’s acquisition or release, followed by action taken by GAM to prepare the site for an RSS study to determine the cause of the collapse and the soundness of the site for rebuilding.

This long awaited decision came in the form of an official memorandum in mid-September, according to informed sources at the Department of Antiquities. The Department indicated that the site does not fulfill acquisition criteria, and therefore there is no need to invest in it. Citizen Ahmad Alqam, an army pensioner and resident of the damaged homes, says they met with the Minister of State for Prime Ministry Affairs Dr. Mamdouh Al Abbadi after a demonstration by the residents, and he “never referred to the issue of the Decent Accommodation”. He also made no reference to technical matters or decisions, but he did promise to resolve the problem “because we had submitted a request to the Royal Court”.

Alqam, the head of a seven member household, added that the “ad hoc reasoning” prevailed in Al Joufeh, where everyone wished to “appear on the news to show that they are around… four days after the collapse, all contact with all the officials ceased”.

Decent Accommodation for Decent Living Promise

Commenting on the proposal to compensate the families with Decent Accommodation for Decent Living apartments, MP Dima Tahboub told the reporter “I was contacted by the Minister who told me to inform the residents of the decision. This was confirmed to me by another minister, that they will be given apartments in the Decent Accommodation project, because the area where they live now is not fit for construction”.

Tahboub added that she did not consult with the residents after the proposal, but “I am concerned with their interests, that they do not lose an option for which they may not have alternative”. However, Naser Al Hajj, also a resident of the collapsed buildings, insists that they collapsed due to the deteriorating sanitation system in the area, and fears that he is right, that the government means the “Abu Alanda” Decent Accommodation Project. He says, “Even if they register it all in my name, for free, and they give me money on top of it, I won’t take it. I live in the center of Amman, why would I go to Al Beida “Abu Alanda Project”? If I am going to go from here to there I will need five JD for transportation!”.

His brother Azmi, who lived in the same building, shares his opinion. He is aghast at the proposal, saying “the people for whom it was built refused it, why would we go when we have proof of property?”. He mentioned that there was also a proposal to put them up in the project’s apartments provisionally with the beginning of the crises, but they refused at the time.

According to the responses from the people surveyed, the reason for the people’s rejection of the project can be attributed to the abundance of rumors on the specifications of the buildings, the cracks, and the location of Abu Alanda, which is underserved compared with their area, according to them. The people of the area themselves complain of the limited services and their distance from the schools and hospitals.

Haitham Ramadan, Naser and Azmi’s neighbor, said “I have a brother who is on dialysis, if he has an emergency, he will die before the ambulance arrives”. He added that he is a teacher, and he is aware of the housing granted to the teachers “which in some homes had collapsed buildings, substandard infrastructure, and flooded sanitation”.

Ramadan considers that the residents were able to secure one of their rights forcefully when Miyhuna Company recently changed the sanitation pipe routes, moving them away from the homes. So “we will demand more than this… they should not throw us away as if we are beggars. We had standing homes and they collapsed due to sanitation”.

On his part, Engineer Kakish who was mandated with going to the site after the collapse, told this reporter that to date, they have not determined the reason and full responsibility.

According to Kakish “We saw at the time that a newly erected column is about to collapse. There were some recently added water storage tanks, water tanks came in the afternoon, there was construction work… when we started to clean, we found the remains of holes under the homes… Moreover, their drainage system consists of channels, there are no appropriate sanitation pipelines. Sanitation or waste goes through various channels, and of course there are various chemical materials going through, leading to the deterioration of concrete… Many factors came together!”

If the decision is applied, it means the eviction of all the families that were evacuated upon the collapse, which is over 50 families, from Al Joufeh Camp. It seems however that the position of the families in the homes that were “evacuated for precautionary reasons” is not much different than the position of the “families from the collapsed buildings”.

Ahmad Al Theibeh, a public employee residing in one of the homes neighboring the collapse sight, says he cannot in practice move to the Decent Accommodation apartments. Those who reside in those areas “need to have a car and an income between 500 and 600 JD to be able to live”. This is impossible in his case, as he receives a pension that is half that amount. He added “They are not compensating me with a home, they are not compensating me to reach the street, I am not even in the city. If my son falls ill, I will put him on my shoulders to reach Al Bashir Hospital”.

We have not been able to reach the Minister of State for Prime Ministry Affairs Mamdouh Al Abbadi for a comment, in spite of our continuous attempts to hear his point of view, as an official who has been following up this matter.

Alqam summarizes the blame of the area’s residents by saying “We are citizens, and we have a right to know the decisions before they are made. We are between a rock and a hard place, the rent and the obligations that we have incurred on one hand and the delays on the other. We may need four or five months. The least amount of rent that any of us is paying is 200 JD, no one shows any mercy. Tomorrow we will be summoned before the courts!”.

Multiple responsibilities

Lawyer Mazen Al Taweel believes that the government has been negligent with regard to the suffering of these people, even though some of them bear responsibility for constructing unlicensed buildings that are in violation of the specifications. However “we are faced with a reality now. The government must address this matter, process it, and bear responsibility for it, especially since GAM has been negligent with regard to violating buildings. Ultimately, the responsibility for zoning falls on GAM, and when it turns a blind eye to buildings that are in violation of codes then it bears responsibility for this”.

He went on to say that the Ministry of Public Works has also been negligent with regard to the infrastructure for those buildings. If the collapse was due to the sanitation channels and their impact on the buildings, “this will require compensation for those residents. However, it requires expert reports that prove that one of the reasons that contributed to the collapse was the sanitation channels”. In this case, Al Taweel says the residents can resort to the courts and file a suite to claim this compensation.

In Al Taweel’s opinion, the notice received by the residents on 31 October can only be viewed as “an attempt by GAM to clear itself of its responsibility”. If there is any collapse, especially as we are approaching winter, the problem is old and it started before last January.

The Executive Director of the Construction Oversight Department at GAM, Engineer Raed Haddadin explained that GAM “is not authorized to discuss the reason for the collapse”. He added that oversight of violations which threaten the safety of citizens is not part of their mandate. He said “GAM has a regulatory function… Safety is the function of citizens? Why are there engineering offices? Why is there an Engineering Association?”

In spite of this, Haddadin mentioned in an earlier discussion with the reporter that “GAM should practice oversight, but if you ask the violators to stop building, they build at night”, according to him.

Decent Accommodation is the Minimum Standard

The right to decent accommodation and ensuring this right lies in appropriate governmental policies and programs. Ensuring the right to decent housing is a responsibility that the state bears. It was mentioned by the Special Rapporteur on Decent Housing as an element of the right to an appropriate standard of living. She submitted her annual report at the seventy first session of the General Assembly on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 2016.

The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee referred to the implied connection between the right to life and the right to decent accommodation, to determine cases of a denial of rights that must be addressed as a priority.

The UN Committee stated that the countries in a state of denial of these basic levels “are in violation of their commitments in accordance with the International Covenant”.

“The property of a person cannot be taken away without compensation and for the purpose of public good”. Article 11 of the Jordanian constitution stipulates “No property of any person may be expropriated except for purposes of public utility and in consideration of a just compensation, as may be prescribed by law.” This is according to lawyer Mazen Al Taweel.

After long months in search of answers on their fate, the residents of the area do not hide their sense of being unjustly treated and overlooked by the officials. However, they are not surprised, as it does not host, as they said, “an embassy or even a house that belongs to an MP or minister”.

Updates:

 The Royal Scientific Society started conducting the study to further examine the possibility of re-building the families’ homes. The study, according to a source that preferred to remain anonymous, is expected to take several months after changing its scope to protect other buildings.

  • In the meantime, families continue to struggle to pay rent. Some of these families have failed to pay rent for months, and are threatened to be evacuated by the landlords.
  • Promises to relocate residents to the “Decent Housing for Decent Living” apartments have never been discussed again.

 

This story was published on Alghad newspaper: https://bit.ly/2CRg9z4

 

* Supported by the Journalists for Human Rights Organization (JHR)

 

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